MADISON – An eight-year veteran of the Florida Department of Corrections is now under arrest and could be facing time in prison — although no longer as a corrections officer supervising the inmates.
This officer was charged with bringing contraband into the prison on the Florida Panhandle where she worked.
Jefferson Correctional Institution Correctional Officer Pamela Branch, 46, has been charged with trafficking in Oxycodone, identity theft, conspiracy to introduce contraband into the institution and receiving unlawful compensation or reward for official behavior.
All of the charges that Branch is facing are felony offenses.
Paula Bryant, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Corrections, said despite this arrest, the investigation is ongoing.
“The investigation is not completed until the prosecution is,” Bryant said. “If the case is ongoing, we wouldn’t be able to comment on it.”
Branch has been employed by DOC since May 2003. She became the subject of a joint investigation between DOC and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, as well as the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
On Monday, Branch turned herself in at the Madison County Jail in Madison. Her total bond amount is set at $80,000.
Kristi Gordon, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said her office opened the case on Branch last summer.
“The investigation itself started in August,” Gordon said, adding that she could not provide any further details on this arrest.
“Due to the active nature of this investigation, we’ll be unable to comment at this time,” she said.
Oxycodone is a prescription medication, generally prescribed for the relief of moderate to severe pain. Although sold legally, this drug has become as much of a problem in Florida as illegal ones.
The state has been trying to crack down on so-called “pill mills,” where doctors write prescriptions for pain killing medications like Oxycodone that in some cases can be highly addictive. The abuse of prescription drugs is considered one of the nation’s fastest growing drug problems. The Center for Drug Free Living Addictions Receiving Facility in Orlando has reported that addictions to pain pills jumped to 83 percent of all their cases last year.
Contraband is the illegal ownership of certain goods that are banned among inmates, but can be used as a form of unofficial currency in prisons. Prisoners who are able to get money from their family or friends can trade that for banned items, which can include cell phones, drugs, or cigarettes. It’s up to corrections officer and prison staff to fight the import of contraband, although as Branch’s arrest indicates, it’s most often the corrections officers who have the greatest ability to smuggle these prohibited items into a correctional facility.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Law Enforcement Bulletin notes that contraband remains a serious – even dangerous – problem in state prisons and jails.
“Cell phones represent the latest concern in authorities’ constant struggle against prison and jail contraband,” the bulletin notes. “Inmates smuggle them into facilities in increasing numbers. For example, in 2008, approximately 2,800 devices were confiscated by California officials alone. During a massive search in a Texas institution, authorities recovered approximately 300 wireless phones, including 18 from death row inmates.”
The use of contraband can become deadly, the FBI notes.
“Inmate telephone use sometimes may facilitate criminal activity,” the bulletin notes. “A recent report concluded that ‘a significant number of inmates use prison telephones to commit serious crimes.’ While prisoners may use their cell phones for benign purposes, such as maintaining contact with family and friends, the devices also may provide inmates with an avenue for conducting criminal activity without concerns about the restrictions imposed on landline telephone use.”
DOC’s Correctional Compass Weekly newsletter notes in an article from 2010 that special measures have been taken to combat contraband in Florida’s prison.
“The Drug Interdiction Teams conduct unannounced visits to our 146 prison facilities statewide, where the dogs sniff for drugs and weapons in the parking lots, and for cell phones, drugs, weapons and other contraband inside the facilities,” the article notes. “Over the last two fiscal years, these Contraband/Drug Interdiction Teams have recovered 57 gallons of alcohol, 6,992 grams of cannabis, 728 grams of cocaine and 337 cell phones and accessories including chargers. Outside the prison walls, the Drug Interdiction Teams have found a total of 49 firearms in vehicles in prison parking lots over the last two fiscal years, and conducted more than 11,000 drug device scans on staff, visitors and inmates. They have also been involved in the arrests, or filing of criminal charges, against 106 individuals on drug-related charges as a result of these interdictions and contraband-related investigations.”
Jefferson CI is in Monticello and houses adult men, with a maximum capacity of 1,179 inmates.
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