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Smuggling drugs into Berlin prison an escalating problem

Special to the Union Leader

December 12. 2013 9:26PM
Correction officials say many attempt to smuggle drugs into the 650-inmate Northern New Hampshire Correction Facility in Berlin. Nine people were indicted this month in Coos County Superior Court in Lancaster on those charges. (COURTESY)

LANCASTER — The Coos County prosecutor and an investigator at the state prison in Berlin said Thursday that attempts to smuggle illegal drugs to inmates has become a constant problem.

No fewer than 10 people — inmates and their associates outside the prison gates — were indicted this month by a Coos County Superior Court grand jury on charges of trying to bring contraband into the Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility in Berlin.

“It’s more and more frequent,” Coos County Attorney John McCormick said. “You would hope that when you go to prison you’d clean up a little bit and not carry on the same activity that sent you there in the first place. But it’s a problem, and we’re trying to deal with it.”

The charge is usually delivery of articles to prisoners, or maybe conspiracy to make that delivery, both Class B felonies punishable by 3½ to seven years in prison.

The smugglers are often relatives of inmates, said Tim Coulombe, the investigator at the Berlin prison. At least three of those charged this month are not inmates, at least not yet, he said.

Christine Banks, 40, of Nashua, Sheila Berube, 45, of Laconia, and Kimberly Hickey, 26, of Taunton, Mass., all tried to bring drugs in, according to the indictments. Banks allegedly tried to sneak in “items concealed in balloons” on July 14.

Berube is accused of buying and swallowing unspecified contraband, also in balloons, before visiting the prison in December 2012. She worked along with several of the others charged, according to one of her indictments.

Hickey’s role, also in December 2012, included “relaying messages between and among prisoners,” an indictment against her says.

The alleged smuggling attempts accounted for 18 of the 79 indictments the grand jury in Lancaster handed up on Dec. 6.

Also charged, were Sean Varney, Matthew Woodrow Peters, Robert W. Hickey, Ryan Grimes, Zachary Fry, Shane Berube and Linwood Antwine.

Though the particular drug involved was most often not specified in the indictments, buprenorphine was listed at least twice.

Both McCormick and Coulombe said that’s one they’re seeing most often these days. The Buprenorphine Information Center’s website says in its legal use, the drug is intended to help people discontinue the “misuse of opiates without experiencing withdrawal symptoms.” But the website cautions that buprenorphine itself “may be abused, particularly by individuals not addicted to opiates.”

And Coulombe said corrections personnel’s work got a good deal harder when the manufacturer switched the drug from tablet form to “sublingual strips” that can now be concealed and delivered to inmates much more easily.

Regarding the prevention of contraband as a whole, Coulombe said of inmates and their associates, “Whenever we find a way to stop it, they’ll try to find a way around it.”

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