By / February 22, 2023

Cannabis in Prison: Bans Cause More Harm Than Good

A few days ago, during a criminal trial, the presiding judge asked the defendant if she had managed to stop using cannabis since her incarceration, to which the defendant responded, “I try, but it is hard to say no. There is a lot of cannabis in prison. It comes in through the visiting rooms; there are drug dealers. And everyone knows about it, even the management. They don’t care. They just want to have peace.”

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The Average Consumption of Cannabis in Prison

Drugs in prison? “Their use is prevalent,” confirms Wilfried Fonck, national secretary of UFAP-UNSa-penitentiary. “It’s an open secret,” agrees Caroline Protais, a sociologist at the French Observatory for Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT). “It has already happened to me while walking in the corridors, to smell cannabis in prison, and even to see prisoners with a joint in their hands,” adds Solenn Lebret-Dallaserra, a doctoral student in prison sociology at the social sciences laboratory of Grenoble.

However, there is no national survey on cannabis in prison. “But regional studies conducted in the 2010s suggest that 40% of detainees use cannabis in prison, between 2 and 7% use cocaine, and between 1 and 8% use heroin,” says Caroline Protais. “In detention, an ordinary consumption for a prisoner is about two to three joints per day,” adds Solenn Lebret-Dallaserra.

Cannabis in Prison: Paths of Entry

The first path of entry for cannabis in prison is still the visiting rooms. The families pass under a metal detector and their bags in an X-ray machine. This does not detect drugs hidden in visitors’ clothing or private parts. “Families are never searched, except in the case of targeted operations by the police or gendarmerie. It can happen if the justice suspects a big increase in traffic. But it remains sporadic,” says Wilfried Fonck. As for the detainees, they can be searched, including naked, when they leave the visiting rooms. But these are not systematic.

Another method of entry for cannabis in prison is via “projections” or “parachuting” carried out from outside in the courtyard. In general, the guards are not present but posted in a guardhouse. The drugs are sent over the perimeter wall in small packages that the inmates immediately hide.

“Very often, they bring them up into the cells by a system of ‘yo-yos.’ These are generally sheets that work like a pulley. By the time they exit the walkways, a good number of prisoners will not have anything on them anymore”, explains Caroline Protais by specifying that, in certain detainment centers, the directors estimate that a single walkway can see as many as 150 to 200 ‘projections’ of cannabis in prison.

“For some time now, we have also seen parachuting by drones,” underlines Wilfried Fonck. Of course, nets over the courtyards attempt to defend against cannabis in prison, but they are mainly designed to avoid an escape by helicopter.”

No Desire to Create Violent Clashes Over a Joint

Faced with the reality of cannabis in prison, prison administrators claim to be responding to the situation. “Police checks are carried out regularly and unexpectedly at the time of the visits,” says Protais. Prison officers also conduct searches of cells and all common areas.” But many observers note a high “tolerance” for the use of cannabis in prison.

“It is impossible to imagine a drug-free facility because inmates will always find a way to circumvent controls. Above all, institutions do not have the means to sanction everything. With 40% of detainees using cannabis in prison, we need entire teams dedicated to disciplinary commissions, especially in prisons,” says Caroline Protais. Many supervisors are also in permanent tension and do not want to create a violent clash over a simple joint”, she adds.

Above all, there would be a tacit consensus to consider that the consumption of cannabis in prison is a means to calm the prisoners and to obtain a particular form of “social peace” in detention, particularly in establishments with strong overcrowding. “Everyone is well aware that we can’t lock up two people in 9m2 cells and remove everything they had outside, explains Solenn Lebret-Dallaserra. That would create tension that could be dangerous, even for the guards. As a result, everyone turns a blind eye to cannabis in prison.

The Tolerance of Cannabis in Prison “Is a Fantasy”

“I’m very annoyed by this talk of a supposed tolerance for cannabis in prison. It’s a fantasy. On a daily basis, the directors spend their time making reports to the police or the gendarmerie for even the smallest possession of cannabis in prison. For this reason, many disciplinary cases are also initiated, and the visiting permits of anyone who brings cannabis in prison are suspended. We do not trivialize the circulation of cannabis in prison because we know that this can lead to trafficking and extortion of or threats to certain prisoners.”

(Featured image by XIIIfromTOKYO (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons)

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First published in La Croix, a third-party contributor translated and adapted the article from the original. In case of discrepancy, the original will prevail.

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