Corruption allegations rock US state prison | Americas| North and South American news impacting on Europe | DW | 06.10.2016
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Corruption allegations rock US state prison

A US grand jury has indicted 80 people for drug trafficking at Maryland's largest state prison. Guards, inmates and civilian prison workers are swept up in one of the biggest corruption cases in the state's history.

A pair of indictments unsealed Wednesday by US prosecutors alleges that a tip from a prison guard has yielded the single largest federal criminal case in Maryland's history.

The indictments allege that 80 people including corrections officers, inmates and "outside facilitators" orchestrated a vast contraband smuggling enterprise that traded drugs, tobacco and mobile phones to prisoners for money and sex.

"Prison corruption is a longstanding, deeply rooted systemic problem that can only be solved by a combination of criminal prosecutions and policy changes," US Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, the lead federal prosecutor, said in a statement.

Rosenstein said the investigation began in 2013 after a concerned prison guard learned of a system in which other guards would warn inmates of impending searches. The guard brought it to the attention of state authorities who in turn passed it to federal prosecutors. Those caught up in the dragnet are mostly low-level officers and not senior managers.

Twice in July, prison guards encouraged inmates to stab other prisoners for acting as informants for authorities, Rosenstein said. Two inmates and two guards were charged with civil rights violations stemming from the attacks, he added.

According to the charging documents, prison guards profited handsomely from smuggling contraband into the jail. A single strip of Suboxone, a prescription opioid that sells for $3 (2.70 euros) on the street, could fetch up to $50 inside the prison.  A $20-can of chewing tobacco could sell for $250. Other drugs such as heroin, cocaine and other narcotics were also brought in by prison staff and handed over to inmates.

The federal indictments center on the Eastern Correctional Institution in Westover, Maryland's largest state prison. The scheme involved 18 prison guards, 35 inmates and 27 civilians who helped coordinate the flow of drugs and other contraband.

Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Stephen Moyer said he assigned eight investigators to work with the FBI and other federal agencies to crack the case, relying heavily on wiretaps.

jar/kl (AP, Reuters)

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