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Dept. Of Correction Working To Keep Illegal Drugs Out Of Prisons

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RALEIGH, N.C. — It is the job of the

North Carolina Department of Correction

to keep inmates in prison to serve out their sentences; however, prison officials admit they have a hard time keeping drugs out.

The Department of Correction (DOC) conducts random drug tests on about 15 percent of the state's prison inmates each month. Last fiscal year, close to 5 percent of prisoners tested positive for drugs. That number is down from over 6 percent the year before.

The DOC has stepped up security, but drugs still sneak in every day.

At six labs across the state, technicians test prisoners urine for illegal drugs -- close to 80,000 samples a year. The samples are sorted, then run through a computerized analyzer to test for marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.

"As long as we have inmates, we're going to have some drugs in the prison," said John Blalock, DOC assistant director of security.

Prison officials said contact visits with family are the biggest source of drug smuggling.

"Wives bring it to their husbands. We have mothers that bring it to their sons. We have daughters that bring it to their fathers," Blalock said.

Despite strip searches, inmates still manage to hide drugs.

"We had a very large inmate who actually put it in the rolls of his fat," explained Blalock.

To combat the clever, prison officials use specially trained dogs to complement the random testing. They sniff out drugs on visitors, inmates and even correctional officers.

"We have thousands of dedicated employees in this agency that work in the prisons, but we have a few willing to provide drugs to inmates," Blalock said.

Some inmates also try to beat the tests by diluting their systems with water.

"With the testing that we do, we're still able to recover a positive result," lab technician Felicia Jenkins said.

"We will never eliminate them but we'll have to keep trying," Blalock said.

So far this year, positive drug tests are down in prisons. DOC officials credit the decrease search dogs, limited contact visits and the recording of all inmate phone calls. Officials said it is so tough to keep drugs out, they have considered buying X-ray machines to check inmates' body cavities.