This article describes the efforts begun 6 years ago by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) to eliminate illegal drugs from its prisons; and it updates what the DOC is currently doing to keep drugs out of its prisons, along with a discussion about the future of prison security that targets illegal drugs.
Like many prison systems in the 1990's, the Pennsylvania DOC had an ongoing drug problem whose severity was manifested in an increasing frequency of assaults on correctional officers, more serious violent encounters between inmates, continued seizures of drugs and drug paraphernalia, and discoveries of collusion by staff in smuggling drugs. Six inmates died of drug overdoses during 1995 and 1996. In 1996 the DOC, with support from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), embarked on an evaluation of a new broad-based drug control strategy to combat drugs throughout the State's five prisons. As part of a zero-tolerance drug policy, the department instituted a four-pronged program aimed at drug control: prosecuting inmates caught with drugs, halting the influx of drugs (interdiction) entering the institutions, testing inmates for drug use, and implementing comprehensive treatment programs. To gauge the effectiveness of these efforts, the DOC and NIJ conducted a before-and-after analysis of drug use in prison by testing urine and hair specimens from a random sample of inmates. Following the full implementation of the DOC's drug control strategy, Pennsylvania's prisons became virtually drug-free, with the percentage of inmates testing positive for drugs dropping below 1.5 percent. The programs and policies aimed at prosecution, interdiction, testing, and treatment undergo repeated assessment and have been continually modified to enhance their effectiveness. 5 tables and 6 notes