Gangs, drones pushing lucrative contraband market in Ala. prisons

ADOC battles contraband, gang activity

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Sophisticated criminal enterprises are being run behind the walls of Alabama’s prisons. The commodity: contraband in the form of drugs, weapons and cell phones.

“It’s our opinion that contraband is directly related to the violence in the prison system,” stated Alabama Department Of Corrections Intelligence and Investigation Director Arnaldo Mercado. “If you eliminate the contraband, that translates to lowering the levels of violence.”

Mercado is tasked with charging those who feed this dangerous custodial market for street goods.

“We spend a great deal of time following up where the monies go and where the come from and tying those to specific individuals,” he said.

It’s so lucrative what generally costs $20 on the street is valued at hundreds of dollars inside prison.

“An inmate or anyone connected to a scheme can make hundreds of thousands of dollars by selling drugs in the prison system,” explained Mercado. “It represents a lot of power.”

Mercado’s team has even seized drones dropping contraband inside the fences at various facilities. The unmanned aircraft are described as well above consumer grade that can carry heavy payloads.

“To say that people would be surprised would be an understatement,” he stated.

Currently, ADOC is looking at new technology that would thwart drone drops by alerting them of any airspace activity near the prisons.

“We can identify the drone and who’s controlling it,” said Mercado.

Gangs are heavily involved, inside and outside the state. In order to address issues involving interstate commerce, members of Mercado’s division serve as task force officers to all federal law enforcement agencies.

“We have a great deal of cases that involved large gangs and well known gangs,” he said. “For example, the Bloods, Crips, Gangster Disciples. We have instances where we have white supremacists gangs involved in these scams.”

The intelligence division has shifted to a proactive policing mentality that hasn’t been utilized in ADOC. So far this year four major sweeps at large facilities have turned up droves of contraband. Adding to the already heavy caseload which sends nearly 500 cases a year out for prosecution.

Mercado sends this message for those who are involved: "We are coming after you, we have a zero tolerance policy and we won't stop."

You can report crime inside Alabama’s prisons by calling 1-866-293-779 (select option 4), or by clicking here.

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