Pamela White

Freedom Under Attack

A building at a Colorado ski resort explodes into flames. A secret organization claiming to oppose the ski resort’s expansion takes credit for the fire. In a matter of days a dozen environmental activists from Boulder disappear, taken by federal law enforcement.

Not charged with a crime, the activists are placed in solitary confinement on 23-hour lockdown in a federal prison. Their names are kept secret. No phone calls. No lawyers. No visitors.

Some are released after three months, others almost a year later. None is ever charged with a crime. In fact, all are eventually cleared. Yet their lives have been devastated by fear, lost income, lost jobs, lost housing, lost credits in college.

Civil libertarians say such scenarios could be part of America’s future if a collection of proposed changes to U.S. law -- known collectively as Patriot Act II -- become law. Drafted in secret by officials in the U.S. Department of Justice and leaked to the public last January, Patriot Act II would expand powers given to federal law enforcement under the USA PATRIOT Act (USAPA), which itself has fallen under fire for violating people’s civil liberties.

While Patriot Act II has already garnered substantial opposition from all points on the political compass, the task of combating it is made difficult by the fact that the Patriot Act II as such doesn’t really exist -- not yet, or perhaps not anymore.

In response to the early reaction to news of Patriot Act II, strategists at the justice department have repackaged various sections of the bill into other legislation, making the bill’s various components extremely difficult to follow, even for Washington insiders and watchdogs.

Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft continues his 20-state roadshow, defending the USAPA and stumping for the Vital Interdiction of Criminal Terrorist Organizations Act, or VICTORY Act, setting the stage for the biggest battle over civil liberties since the McCarthy era.

Laws and consequences

On Oct. 26, 2001, a mere six weeks after terrorists attacked the United States, a frightened Congress passed the USAPA, a 342-page bill that gave sweeping powers to law enforcement agencies ostensibly to keep Americans safe from terrorism. A highly complex piece of legislation, it increased government powers in areas that were previously restricted.

• It removes virtually all checks on the government’s ability to pry into records of people’s activities held by other organizations, such as libraries, hospitals, bookstores and credit card companies.

• It makes it much easier for the government to search private property without notifying the owner. This is known as the "sneak and peak" provision.

• It enables the government to conduct a physical search or wiretap on American citizens to obtain evidence of wrongdoing without first having to prove probable cause to a judge.

• It permits the government to perform "trap and trace" searches -- gathering addresses, telephone numbers and URLs that people contact -- with virtually no judicial oversight.

In the debate over Patriot Act II, it has become relevant for many to know what the government has done with the powers accorded it under the USAPA. But what the government has done with that power since then remains largely a mystery, despite numerous attempts on the part of legislators, press and citizens to hold the government accountable.

"It appears that the American people feel the government is intent on prying into every nook and cranny of people’s private lives, while at the same time doing all that it can to block access to government information that would inform the American people about what is being done in their name," complained Rep. William D. Delahunt, D-MA, during the House Judiciary Committee hearings last June.

Delahunt isn’t the only person to express frustration.

"We’re trying to find out how they’re using this new power, and that’s not even available," says Charlie Mitchell, legal counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union on national security and immigration. "We get bits and pieces. We got one document from the Department of Justice–it was six pages, every line blacked out."

While Ashcroft downplays concerns about lost freedom and secrecy in his controlled public appearances, there is plenty of evidence to prove those concerns are not unwarranted. Reports issued by the justice department itself -- one provided by Glen A. Fine, the justice department’s inspector general -- offer the public at least a glimpse into the government’s actions. The picture it paints isn’t pretty.

Among Fine’s findings was the fact that some 762 people were imprisoned in the wake of Sept. 11 in very restrictive conditions, some on 23-hour lockdown. Some were physically abused by being slammed into walls, while others were denied contact with attorneys. Every one of the 762 turned out to be innocent of any terrorist-related crime.

A 60-page report issued by the justice department to the House Judiciary Committee admits that measures passed for use against terrorists have been utilized in non-terrorism cases, including drug dealing, credit card fraud and theft. In one North Carolina case, a prosecutor is charging a man who produced methamphetamine with two counts of making a nuclear or chemical weapon. Regular meth charges might have landed him in jail for six months; the chemical weapons charge could get him 12 years to life.

DA Jerry Wilson revealed what critics see as a serious flaw of anti-terror legislation when he told the press that "there is nothing in the statute that requires any organized terror effort. There’s nothing in the statute that requires that these chemicals be used as weapons."

The justice department also admitted visiting some 50 libraries in the past year in search of individuals’ reading records -- not in cases of suspected terrorism, but in ordinary criminal cases.

This is not to mention the hundreds of individuals, who range in age from 13 to over 70, being held indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay, where there have reportedly been 32 suicide attempts. The U.S. military has kept a tight lid on information pertaining to the treatment of prisoners there, but it is well known that prisoners have been denied both constitutional protections and many of the rights guaranteed to prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention.

"All this stuff at Guantanamo Bay is ‘brave new world’ -- it has never come up before," says Richard Collins, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Law and administrator of the school’s Byron White Center for the Study of American Constitutional Law. "It’s clearly in violation of international law."

Confirmed and suspected abuses of power such as these have garnered both the USAPA and Patriot Act II widespread opposition from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, civil libertarians, leftwing activists, rightwing militia members and ordinary citizens. Rep. Ron Paul, a Republican from President Bush’s adopted state of Texas, is a vocal opponent of both, as are U.S. Rep. Mark Udall of Boulder and U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver. About 158 towns and cities across the country have passed resolutions opposing provisions of the USAPA, along with Vermont, Alaska and Hawaii.

"Patriot I went through Congress so fast that it was difficult to get the public informed, and the media, quite frankly, did a miserable job of informing the public about what was going on," says David Kopel, research director for the Independence Institute, a pro-civil liberties think tank. "I think by now (people) have a sense that Ashcroft is bad on civil liberties. They couldn’t supply many details, but they know that there’s something there, and in that way they’re better informed."

While Kopel believes some U.S. government actions have made Americans safer -- by attacking al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq -- he has serious concerns about the government’s plans to enhance current anti-terror legislation.

"We have moved the front line of the war on terror from New York City to Baghdad, so it’s much safer for the American people that the fighting is going on in Iraq rather than downtown Manhattan," he says. "At the same time I think much of the PATRIOT Act is not related to terrorism, so it certainly is not making us safe. And there are continuing attempts for people to further erode the Bill of Rights using terrorism as the pretext even for measures that have very little to do with terrorism. I hope the American people will stay informed about this and resist it as much as possible."

A veil of secrecy

When members of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked officials in the justice department about rumors of a Patriot Act II, they were told no such proposed legislation existed. A whistleblower proved that statement false by leaking a draft of the bill, then titled the Domestic Security Enhancement Act, to the public last winter.

Key provisions include the following:

• The definition of terrorism, which many feel is already too broad, would be expanded such that anyone committing a crime -- perhaps even acts of civil disobedience -- to influence government policy could be charged as a terrorist and face wiretapping, asset forfeiture and loss of U.S. citizenship.

• The government would no longer have to reveal the identities of anyone -- even American citizens -- detained during the course of a terror investigation until after criminal charges have been filed, no matter how long the person is in custody.

• Laws that limit local police from spying on religious and political activity would be repealed.

• Law enforcement would be able to obtain credit records and library records without a warrant.

• The government would be able to set up wiretaps without any court approval for up to 15 days after a terrorist attack.

• The government would restrict the release of information about "worst-case scenarios" posed by chemical plants, factories and other facilities.

• The government would have the power to extradite Americans to foreign countries even when treaties don’t allow for it.

• Legal immigrants would no longer be guaranteed a fair deportation hearing and would lose the option of appealing their cases to federal court.

The response to Patriot Act II has been scathing, raising concerns among lawmakers, activists and civil libertarians of all political stripes.

Kopel is concerned about many of the proposed changes, particularly those that would deny Americans the right to challenge detainment, known as habeas corpus, and those that would extradite Americans to foreign countries or strip them of their citizenship.

"To say that the government of Kazakhstan, or some other despotism which happens to have friendly relations with America, can infringe on the rights of Americans is just outrageous," Kopel says.

The broadened definition of terrorism is also a concern for him.

"The definition of terrorism under federal law is already overly broad, and this would make it worse," he says.

He acknowledges the possibility that activists, such as those who participated in demonstrations against the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund in Seattle and Washington, D.C., could potentially be labeled terrorists.

"I think the thugs in Seattle and Washington, D.C., ought to be prosecuted, but we have existing laws on riots and assault and vandalism and similar things which are perfectly fine, and I don’t think you should lose your citizenship for participating in a riot," he says.

Activist Betty Ball says the use of anti-terrorist measures against activists would be nothing new.

"Scott McInnis was calling environmentalists ‘eco-terrorists’ long before 9/11," says Ball, a spokeswoman for the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center. "It’s just a continuation… The difference is before we had the Constitution. If they succeed, this (strips away aspects of) our Constitution."

Ball says Patriot Act II would have prevented Daryl Cherney and the daughters of deceased activist Judi Bari from suing the FBI for the smear campaign the agency launched against them after the two were nearly killed when a bomb planted under Bari’s car seat exploded.

Patriot Act II would likely also have resulted in the detainment of several Boulder activists following the firebombing of the Two Elks Lodge at Vail. Boulder activists had been protesting the ski area’s expansion in Vail just days prior to the fire. The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, at which an FBI agent was caught doing a "sneak and peak" at addresses and phone numbers, would have easily been the target of data gathering and wiretapping.

"If it weren’t so serious, it would be laughable, because it’s absolutely ludicrous to be going to extreme measures," Ball says.

The price of freedom

Tracking Patriot Act II isn’t going to be an easy job. Mitchell says the colloquial label "Patriot Act II" received such a bad response that the bill was repackaged, its provisions tucked into other legislation.

"Pieces are in the VICTORY Act," says Mitchell. "Pieces are in other legislation."

The VICTORY Act, not yet in final form, contains four Patriot Act II provisions. In addition, the VICTORY Act would redefine many drug crimes as terrorism, linking the war on drugs to the war on terror and replacing the phrase "drug crime" with "narcoterrorism."

Mitchell says the data-mining provisions of Patriot Act II are now part of CAPPS II, Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System.

"CAPPS II is already being rushed through," Mitchell says. "That’s one of the worst. That’s the airline screening, which incorporates the data mining… Total Information Awareness. It’s just broken it up and relabeled it."

TIA, which was recently renamed Terrorism Information Awareness, is facing stiff opposition in Congress. It is a program, run by a secretive new government agency called the Information Awareness Office, the goal of which is to assemble a comprehensive computer database of human interactions and personal information in order to identify suspicious activity and individuals.

Mitchell says that the difficulty in trying to combat Patriot Act II is that its bits and pieces keep changing and shifting.

"We’re investigating and trying to stay on top of where all these pieces are coming through, and it’s sort of a continual assault, but it’s done under a veil of secrecy," he says.

Many critics argue that current laws ought to be adequate for the government to do its job against terrorism.

"I think we’re strong enough to be able to overcome this threat without in the process abrogating or narrowly limiting our freedoms," says Udall, who voted against the USAPA.

At the heart of objections against Patriot Act II is the concern that, once given power, government will abuse it.

"You make laws (keeping in mind) not just who’s in power today no matter how much you trust them, but you make laws for the long term," Kopel says. "When you have people like Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton get into power, there are people who will abuse power."

Kopel points out that laws restricting government activity arose out of known abuses.

"Those limits were put in place by many courts over the years in different jurisdictions based on specific findings of civil liberties abuses by those specific police departments," Kopel says.

Still, Kopel is hopeful that the potentially harmful provisions of Patriot Act II will never become law.

"I think to the extent that the media informs the public about this Patriot Act II, then they have some advance information if there’s some attempt to rush this through maybe after some future terrorist attack," he says.

Mitchell, on the front lines of confronting the proposed bills, is likewise hopeful.

"The tide is turning on this," he says. "I think we’re making headway. The longer that we keep up the public pressure on the PATRIOT Act, the less likely they are to get any parts of Patriot Act II in, and hopefully we can stop the second and beat the first."

Death Behind Bars

Charlene Marquez, 39, had a drug problem. It eventually killed her.

But unlike junkies who overdose in their homes, are killed in drug-related violence, or die of hypothermia on the streets, Marquez died in prison.

She was found dead in her cell early in the morning of Sept. 1, 2002, two days after her 39th birthday. An autopsy revealed bits of rubber and plastic in her stomach, the remains of a balloon that had been filled with heroin.

Her death highlights two serious problems, critics say. The first is the ease with which illegal drugs are smuggled into prison. It's a common problem across the country, one corrections personnel nationwide struggle to resolve.

But the second has a more local flavor: Colorado's failure to fund drug-treatment programs adequately inside and outside the prison system. And it's a problem that is about to grow worse, as the state Legislature makes significant budget cuts in human-services programs in light of the state's economic woes.

Body of Evidence

One of the downsides to death is that you leave your body behind, undefended.

Marquez's body was found in her cell at Denver Women's Correctional Facility at 6:20 a.m. on Sept. 1. It was photographed, fingerprinted, placed in a white body bag closed with a locking plastic seal labeled with the number 0209.

Because she died under suspicious circumstances, her body was quickly given an autopsy. The medical examiner measured the length of her long, brown hair: 40 cm. He examined her genitals and reproductive organs, which were found to be normal with the exception of a tubal ligation done to prevent pregnancy.

He removed and weighed her brain, heart, lungs, liver and kidneys. He cataloged the contents of her stomach and measured the depth of her subcutaneous abdominal fat.

He noted other things as well, details of a life now over. Marquez had blue flowers tattooed on her right thigh. The name "Andy" was tattooed on the back of her left wrist. There was a large surgery scar on her abdomen. She was missing several teeth. Her ears were pierced.

It was in her blood that the examiner found what he was looking for. Toxicology tests revealed a high level of morphine in her blood and a small amount of codeine in her bladder.

Based on test results, as well as the bits of rubber found in her stomach, the coroner drew a picture for investigators that looks something like this: Late on Aug. 31 or early on Sept. 1, Marquez swallowed a balloon of heroin. A short time later, the balloon ruptured, flooding her system with an overdose of heroin. She died quickly.

The body breaks heroin down into morphine, then codeine. Because her blood levels of morphine were so high and relatively little codeine was found, she died before her body could metabolize much of the drug.

"This doesn't look like injection, but rather ingestion," said Dr. Thomas Henry, who performed the autopsy.

Exactly how Marquez obtained the drug remains uncertain. An internal investigation continues in the Department of Corrections. Preliminary information from that investigation is unavailable to the public at this time for security reasons.

However, a DOC spokeswoman said Marquez had not left the prison, nor had she received visitors on Aug. 31. Those facts combined indicate she obtained the drug from a source within the prison.

The Forbidden Book

K. Hawkeye Gross used to smuggle drugs into the United States. He made a lot of money doing it. It finally caught up with the Boulder resident and pilot in 1978, however, when he was arrested with 1,130 pounds of marijuana.

He spent two years in Florida prisons and has since authored three books on his experiences, including Drug Smuggling: The Forbidden Book, a how-to guide for people interested in this dangerous but lucrative career (Paladin Press).

Gross says contraband, particularly cigarettes but also illegal drugs, form the backbone of the in-prison economy.

"The possibility is much greater of getting contraband into [state prisons] than at the county level," Gross said. Prisoners are often taken into the community for work during the day and can pre-arrange for friends or relatives to drop off banned goods or drugs in those locations.

Gross recalls a lifer who routinely smuggled Smirnoff vodka into prison using that technique.

"If you can get a bottle of Smirnoff in, you can get anything in," Gross said. But the primary source of drugs for prisoners in the Florida state system were prison guards.

"It was a big source of income for them," Gross said. "The guards -- that was their concession."

Most of them came from poorly educated, lower-income backgrounds -- not unlike the socioeconomic backgrounds of the prisoners -- and were able to vastly increase their incomes by selling drugs to prisoners.

The most common form of contraband was cigarettes, but marijuana was a popular second, often sold as tiny $1 "pin joints," Gross says. He himself traded cigarettes for fresh tomatoes and for a daily change of clean sheets. While he never saw anyone using heroin in prison, he knew inmates who used cocaine.

Gross has mixed feelings about the country's continuing war on drugs.

On the one hand, it presents an opportunity. "I just love knowing that with my skills and experience, if I decide to saddle up again, there's a million-dollar payday waiting for me," he said.

On the other hand, it's an enormous waste of money, he notes. About $50 billion in taxpayer money could be saved if the war on drugs ended. If marijuana were legalized and taxed like beer, Gross estimates another $50 billion would be generated. The combined $100 billion would be enough to provide free health care for every American, he says.

Most of all, the war on drugs is pointless, he says. Decades of increased law enforcement have shown that prohibition does not stop the demand for drugs nor their illegal importation, yet the effort continues.

"I absolutely guarantee you, I could smuggle in a load of marijuana if I wanted to," he said. "If there's something you can't stop, what's the point?"

Bringing It In

"We work our hardest to keep contraband out," said Allison Morgan, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections. Still, some drugs make it inside through a variety of means.

Work crews made up of prisoners who leave the facility are one source, she says. Correctional officers also play a role.

"Staff bring it in," she noted. "I'm not going to run away from that. We work very hard to prevent that."

Sometimes a staff member will sell drugs for economic reasons, perhaps due to a personal financial crisis, she says. (Correctional officers, for example, start at a salary of about $31,000 in Colorado.)

At other times, staff persons might find themselves being manipulated by a prisoner who offers rewards or makes threats in order to obtain certain contraband.

The DOC provides intensive training -- 160 hours followed by a year of on-the-job training -- to help prepare officers for situations they might encounter and to prevent guards from being compromised by inmates, she says.

DOC also runs background checks on all staff, and potential employees are required to pass a urine test before being hired. Further, random urine tests are performed throughout the year.

But a urine test won't catch an officer who sells but doesn't use. "If they don't use it, they're going to come up clean. So hopefully through intelligence, we'll learn about that," she said.

The Colorado DOC does not make use of undercover officers, she says. However, each year, 50 percent of Colorado's more than 18,000 prisoners are randomly tested for drug use through urinalysis. About 3 percent of the population tests positive, a figure that is "very low," she says.

If testing reveals clusters of positive results, officials launch an investigation, which can include searches, more urine testing and surveillance. Oftentimes, inmates themselves will step forward with information, and their identities are protected.

In addition, DOC records all inmate phone calls, except those to attorneys, which are protected by law. Inmates are warned when they enter prison that their conversations will be monitored. "It's still amazing what they say in those conversations," Morgan said.

But the biggest risk to security in Colorado's prisons is visitors, she says. Last year, the DOC's prison complex in Cañon City, 40 miles southwest of Colorado Springs, received more than 55,000 visitors.

While maximum-security inmates are not allowed contact visits with friends and family, other inmates are allowed to be in the same room with their visitors.

They are strip-searched afterward, but some manage to conceal contraband inside their bodies, either swallowing them or inserting them into a body cavity. Body-cavity searches require a search warrant and probable cause and are therefore not performed routinely.

If urine tests show clusters of positive results in certain units, authorities might run a drug interdiction, searching the cars and personal possessions of visitors and making ion scans of their clothes and hands. "We recently had a grandma who was bringing it in," Morgan said.

Supply and Demand

While corrections officials and law enforcement work to contain the supply of drugs, prisoner-rights advocates and drug-treatment practitioners say the state would do well to look equally at the demand.

Colorado currently ranks dead last in state dollars spent in drug treatment. (The state is officially listed as 49th because Georgia state officials neglected to turn data in on time. However, had Georgia turned information in on time, Colorado would rank 50th.)

Research shows that for every $100 Colorado spends on the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse, only 6 cents are spent on treatment programs, says Janet Wood, director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse division of the Colorado Department of Human Services.

That investment is about to drop as state budget problems, exacerbated by a sluggish economy, have resulted in budget cuts in drug-treatment programs, both in the prison system and outside.

This year, the DOC is expected to lose almost $270,000 of its $6.3 million drug and alcohol treatment budget. Additional funds are expected to be cut from parole and community corrections programs that provide essential follow-up treatment to help addicted inmates adjust to living outside an institution.

In Colorado, all inmates entering state prisons are evaluated for physical, mental-health, and drug and alcohol problems. Those needing no drug or alcohol intervention are designated as Treatment Level 1. Those with extreme needs are classified as Level 6.

About 75 percent of all DOC inmates have some level of drug or alcohol problem, Morgan says. But not all of those inmates have their needs met. A report published in December 2001 shows significant gaps between treatment needs of DOC inmates and available treatment services, particularly for levels 3, 4 and 6. (Level 5 treatment is not available within the system.)

For female inmates, no Level 2 treatment is available. According to the report, about 37 percent of female inmates in need of Level 4 treatment don't receive it, while a staggering 64 percent of women in need of the highest level of intervention don't receive needed services.

At Denver Women's Correctional Facility, where Charlene Marquez was incarcerated, there is a rare Level 6 program -- a therapeutic community -- as well as two Alcoholics Anonymous groups. There are no level 2, 3 or 4 programs available at the facility.

However, state law prevents DOC officials from revealing whether Marquez was receiving assistance through either program. Her needs, like those of other female inmates, may have been more acute than those of the average male inmate.

Research shows that most women in prison are victims of substantial physical and/or sexual abuse and have deep-seated emotional needs, Morgan says. DOC research shows that women who do have drug and alcohol problems typically need higher levels of treatment than male prisoners.

"That was one of the reasons we built Denver Women's," Morgan said. "I wish we could have a therapeutic community in every prison, but it's not financially realistic, so we try to prioritize."

The Impact of Prison

But some say prison is not conducive to recovery from addiction and that institutional drug-treatment programs face significant obstacles to success.

"Prison is not a therapeutic environment," said Christie Donner, co-coordinator of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, a project of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center.

The coalition works with current and former inmates on issues ranging from parenting while in prison to navigating the prison system to parole problems, and also works to promote legislation that would reduce drug sentences and increase access to effective drug-treatment programs. Last year, it played a crucial role in the passage of the asset forfeiture bill, which requires a person be convicted of a crime before law enforcement can seize property or other assets.

Donner says less than half of prisoners who need help with drug and alcohol problems receive it. Most receive it shortly before their release date, after they've already become hardened from exposure to prison culture.

"People get warehoused for years, and when they get close to being released is when they're eligible for treatment," she said. "This notion that everyone who needs treatment gets it is not the truth. It's a very small percentage that are actually offered treatment."

Those who receive treatment often have a difficult time trusting therapists and prison staff, as their conversations are not confidential.

"People are afraid whatever they say can and will be used against them in a court of law, and it can be," Donner said. "It's not a safe environment, and I think that's a prerequisite for effective treatment."

Further, prison tends to have an impact on inmates' emotional well-being, giving them a tendency to shut down rather than open up. Even if inmates try to address their problems behind bars, the controlled prison environment is a sharp contrast to the world they meet when they're released.

"It's not a real-world environment," Donner said. "If we assumed prisons were a drug-free environment -- which they obviously are not with the death of Ms. Marquez -- forced abstinence is not the same thing as recovery."

Inmates must learn to cope with the challenges of life without drugs or alcohol. But that's much easier said than done. The world people leave behind when they're sentenced is often not the world they meet when they're released. About 90 percent of married inmates face divorce, many the loss of their children. If they have a felony record, they'll find it very difficult to find work or housing.

In addition, housing and educational loans available to others are not available to them, putting limitations on opportunities to improve themselves and their financial well-being.

"Unless people can access treatment on the outside as part of their recovery, their likelihood of succeeding is very small," Donner said. "I think we as a society don't appreciate the impact prison has on people."

Wood says prison treatment can be effective -- under certain circumstances. "There has been research on institutional treatment programs, but what the research shows is it has to be followed by aftercare in the community," Wood said.

"The reality is, in working with people who are trying to reintegrate, unless you have family or a support system, you're not going to make it," Donner said.

Society's Failures

Charlene Marquez was incarcerated on a four-year sentence in May 2000. She was released into community corrections -- a halfway house -- by September.

A year later, she was allowed to live on her own under intense supervision. But on March 13, 2002, she was returned to prison for a disciplinary infraction, Morgan says. Within six months, she was dead.

Did the Colorado correctional system fail Marquez?

"She's dead," Donner said. "How much more of a failure can there be? Part of the responsibility is hers, but part of the responsibility is ours.

"I wouldn't put all the responsibility on her shoulders because we could be doing things that are proven more effective."

The key to treating drug and alcohol problems effectively is to acknowledge them as medical and mental-health problems, she says. Colorado places too much emphasis on punishment and the criminal aspect of addiction and far too little on effective treatment.

The funding situation is so bad in Colorado with regard to both drug treatment and mental-health treatment that it should be considered a crisis, Donner says.

However, last year's legislative attempt to reduce some drug sentences and put that money toward treatment passed both houses of the state Legislature, but was vetoed by Gov. Bill Owens, who has repeatedly voiced his opposition to shortening drug sentences -- and his mistrust of drug-treatment programs.

"You lock people up in a cage in Cañon City and say the problem is solved," Donner said. "But it's not. The prison system becomes the dumping ground for all the areas where society is failing."

Pamela White is the editor of Boulder Weekly.

Locked Away to Die

Charlene Marquez, 39, had a drug problem. It eventually killed her. But unlike junkies who overdose in their homes, are killed in drug-related violence or die of hypothermia on the streets, Marquez died in prison.

She was found dead in her cell early in the morning of Sept. 1, 2002, two days after her 39th birthday. An autopsy revealed bits of rubber and plastic in her stomach, the remains of a balloon that had been filled with heroin.

Her death highlights two serious problems, critics say.

The first is the ease with which illegal drugs are smuggled into prison. It's a problem common to prisons across the country, one corrections personnel nationwide struggle to resolve.

But the second has a more local flavor: Colorado's failure to fund drug-treatment programs adequately inside and outside the prison system. And it's a problem that is about to grow worse, as the state legislature makes significant budget cuts in human-services programs in light of the state's economic woes.

Body of evidence

One of the down sides to death is that you leave your body behind, undefended.

Charlene's body was found in her cell at Denver Women's Correctional Facility at 6:20 a.m. on Sept. 1. It was photographed, fingerprinted, placed in a white body bag closed with a locking plastic seal labeled with the number 0209.

Because Charlene died under suspicious circumstances, her body was quickly given an autopsy.

The medical examiner measured the length of her long, brown hair: 40 cm. He examined her genitals and reproductive organs, which were found to be normal with the exception of a tubal ligation done to prevent pregnancy. He removed and weighed her brain, heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. He catalogued the contents of her stomach and measured the depth of her subcutaneous abdominal fat.

He noted other things, as well, details of a life now over. Charlene had blue flowers tattooed on her right thigh. The name "Andy" was tattooed on the back of her left wrist. There was a large surgery scar on her abdomen. She was missing several teeth. Her ears were pierced.

It was in her blood that the examiner found what he was looking for. Toxicology tests revealed a high level of morphine in Charlene's blood and a small amount of codeine in her bladder. Based on test results, as well as the bits of rubber found in her stomach, the coroner drew a picture for investigators that looks something like this:

Late on Aug. 31 or early on Sept. 1, Charlene swallowed a balloon of heroin. A short time later, the balloon ruptured, flooding Charlene's system with an overdose of heroin. She died quickly. The body breaks heroin down into morphine, then codeine. Because her blood levels of morphine were so high and relatively little codeine was found, she died before her body could metabolize much of the drug.

"This doesn't look like injection, but rather ingestion," says Dr. Thomas Henry, who performed the autopsy.

Exactly how Marquez obtained the drug remains uncertain. An internal investigation continues in the Department of Corrections. Preliminary information from that investigation is unavailable to the public at this time for security reasons.

However, a DOC spokeswoman said Charlene had not left the prison, nor had she received visitors on Aug. 31.

Those facts combined indicate Charlene obtained the drug from a source within the prison.

Drug economy

Pilot K. Hawkeye Gross used to smuggle drugs into the United States. He made a lot of money doing it. It finally caught up with the Boulder resident in 1978, however, when he was arrested with 1,130 pounds of marijuana. He spent two years in Florida prisons and has since authored three books on his experiences, including Drug Smuggling: The Forbidden Book, a how-to guide for people interested in this dangerous but lucrative career (Paladin Press).

Gross says contraband, particularly cigarettes but also illegal drugs, form the backbone of the in-prison economy.

"The possibility is much greater of getting contraband into (state prisons) than at the county level," Gross says.

Prisoners are often taken into the community for work during the day and can pre-arrange for friends or relatives to drop off banned goods or drugs in those locations. Gross recalls a lifer who routinely smuggled Smirnoff vodka into prison using that technique.

"If you can get a bottle of Smirnoff in, you can get anything in," Gross says.

But the primary source of drugs for prisoners in the Florida state system were prison guards.

"It was a big source of income for them," Gross says. "The guards -- that was their concession."

Most of the guards came from poorly educated, lower-income backgrounds?not unlike the socioeconomic backgrounds of the prisoners?and were able to vastly increase their incomes by selling drugs to prisoners.

The most common form of contraband was cigarettes, but marijuana was a popular second, often sold as tiny $1 "pin joints," Gross says.

He himself traded cigarettes for fresh tomatoes and for a daily change of clean sheets. While he never saw anyone using heroin in prison, he knew inmates who used cocaine.

Gross has mixed feelings about the war on drugs. On the one hand, it presents an opportunity.

"I just love knowing that with my skills and experience, if I decide to saddle up again, there's a million-dollar payday waiting for me," he says.

On the other hand, it's an enormous waste of money. About $50 billion in taxpayer money could be saved if the war on drugs ended. If marijuana were legalized and taxed like tea, Gross estimates another $50 billion would be generated. The combined $100 billion would be enough to provide free health care for every American, he says.

Most of all, the war on drugs is pointless, he says. Decades of increased law enforcement have shown that prohibition does not stop the demand for drugs nor their illegal importation, yet the effort continues.

"I absolutely guarantee you, I could smuggle in a load of marijuana if I wanted to," he says. "If there's something you can't stop, what's the point?"

Dope behind bars

"We work our hardest to keep contraband out," says Allison Morgan, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections. Still, some drugs make it inside through a variety of means.

Work crews made up of prisoners who leave the facility are one source, she says. But correctional officers also play a role.

"Staff bring it in," she says. "I'm not going to run away from that. We work very hard to prevent that."

Sometimes a staff member will sell drugs for economic reasons, perhaps due to a personal financial crisis, she says.

Correctional officers in Colorado start at a salary of about $31,000.

At other times, a staff person might find themselves being manipulated by a prisoner who offers rewards or makes threats in order to obtain certain contraband. DOC provides intensive training?160 hours of training followed by year of on-the-job training?to help prepare officers for situations they might encounter and to prevent guards from being compromised by inmates, she says.

DOC runs background checks on all its staff, and potential employees are required to pass a urine test before being hired. Further, random urine tests are performed throughout the year. But a urine test won't catch an officer who sells but doesn't use.

"If they don't use it, they're going to come up clean. So hopefully through intelligence, we'll learn about that," she says.

Each year, 50 percent of Colorado's more than 18,000 prisoners are randomly tested for drug use through urinalysis. About 3 percent of the population tests positive, a figure which is "very low," she says. If testing reveals clusters of positive results, officials launch an investigation, which can include searches, more urine testing and surveillance. Oftentimes, inmates themselves will step forward with information, and their identities are protected. Colorado DOC does not make use of undercover officers, she says.

In addition, DOC records all inmate phone calls, except those to attorneys, which are protected by law. Inmates are warned when they enter prison that their conversations will be monitored.

"It's still amazing what they say in those conversations," Morgan says.

But the biggest risk to security in Colorado's prisons are visitors, she says. Last year, the East Canyon City complex received more than 55,000 visitors. While maximum security inmates are not allowed contact visits with friends and family, other inmates are allowed to be in the same room with their visitors. They are strip searched afterwards, but some manage to conceal contraband inside their bodies, either swallowing them or inserting them in a body cavity. Body-cavity searches require a search warrant and probable cause and are therefore not performed routinely.

If urine tests show clusters of positive results in certain units, authorities might run a drug interdiction, searching the cars and personal possessions of visitors and making ion scans of their clothes and hands.

"We recently had a grandma who was bringing it in," Morgan says.

Supply and demand

While corrections officials and law enforcement work to contain the supply of drugs, prisoner-rights advocates and drug-treatment practitioners say the state would do well to look equally at the demand.

Colorado ranks dead last in state dollars spent in drug treatment. (The state is officially listed as 49th because Georgia state officials neglected to turn data in on time. However, had Georgia turned information in on time, Colorado would rank 50th.)

Research shows that for every $100 Colorado spends on the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse, only 6 cents are spent on treatment programs, says Janet Wood, director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse division of the Colorado Department of Human Services.

That investment is about to drop as state budget problem, exacerbated by a sluggish economy, have resulted in budget cuts in drug-treatment programs, both in the prison system and outside. The DOC is expected to lose almost $270,000 of its $6.3 million drug and alcohol treatment budget. Additional funds will be cut from parole and community corrections programs that provide essential follow-up treatment to help addicted inmates adjust to living outside an institution.

In Colorado, all inmates entering state prisons are evaluated for physical, mental health and drug and alcohol problems. Those needing no drug or alcohol intervention are designated as Treatment Level 1. Those with extreme needs are classified as Level 6.

About 75 percent of all DOC inmates have some level of drug or alcohol problem, Morgan says.

But not all of those inmates have their needs met. A report published in December 2001, shows significant gaps between treatment needs of DOC inmates and available treatment services, particularly for levels 3, 4 and 6. (Level 5 treatment is not available within the system.)

For female inmates, no Level 2 treatment is available. About 37 percent of female inmates in need of Level 4 treatment don't receive it, while a staggering 64 percent of women in need of the highest level of intervention don't receive needed services.

At Denver Women's Correctional Facility, where Charlene was incarcerated, there is a rare Level 6 program?a therapeutic community?as well as two Alcoholics Anonymous groups. There are no level 2, 3 or 4 programs available at the facility.

However, state law prevents DOC officials from revealing whether Charlene was receiving assistance through either program. Her needs, like those of other female inmates, may have been more acute than those of the average male inmate. Research shows that most women in prison are victims of substantial physical and/or sexual abuse and have deep-seated emotional needs, Morgan says. DOC research shows that women who do have drug and alcohol problems typically need higher levels of treatment than male prisoners.

"That was one of the reasons we built Denver Women's," Morgan says. "I wish we could have a therapeutic community in every prison, but it's not financially realistic, so we try to prioritize."

The impact of prison

But some say prison is not conducive to recovery from addiction and that institutional drug-treatment programs face significant obstacles to success.

"Prison is not a therapeutic environment," says Christie Donner, co-coordinator of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, a project of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center.

The coalition works with current and former inmates on a host of issues ranging from parenting while in prison to navigating the prison system to parole problems. The coalition also works to promote legislation that would reduce drug sentences and increase access to effective drug-treatment programs. Last year, the organization played a crucial role in the passage of the asset forfeiture bill, which requires a person be convicted of a crime before law enforcement can seize property or other assets.

Donner says less than half of prisoners who need help with drug and alcohol problems receive it. Most receive it shortly before their release date, after they've already become hardened from exposure to prison culture.

"People get warehoused for years, and when they get close to being released is when they're eligible for treatment," Donner says. "This notion that everyone who needs treatment gets it is not the truth. It's a very small percentage that are actually offered treatment."

Those who receive treatment often have a difficult time trusting therapists and prison staff, as their conversations are not confidential.

"People are afraid whatever they say can and will be used against them in a court of law, and it can be," Donner says. "It's not a safe environment, and I think that's a prerequisite for effective treatment."

Further, prison tends to have an impact on inmates' emotional well-being, giving them a tendency to shut down rather than open up. Even if they try to address their problems behind bars, the controlled prison environment is a sharp contrast to the world they meet when they're released.

"It's not a real-world environment," Donner says. "If we assumed prisons were a drug-free environment?which they obviously are not with the death of Ms. Marquez?forced abstinence is not the same thing as recovery."

Inmates must learn to cope with the challenges of life without drugs or alcohol. But that's much easier said than done. The world people leave behind when they're sentenced is often not the world they meet when they're released. About 90 percent of married inmates face divorce, many the loss of their children. If they have a felony record, they'll find it very difficult to find work or housing. In addition, housing and educational loans available to others are not available to them, putting limitations on opportunities to improve themselves and their financial well-being.

"Unless people can access treatment on the outside as part of their recovery, their likelihood of succeeding is very small," Donner says. "I think we as a society don't appreciate the impact prison has on people."

Wood says prison treatment can be effective?under certain circumstances.

"There has been research on institutional treatment programs, but what the research shows is it has to be followed by aftercare in the community," Wood says.

Inmates who receive aftercare have a decent chance of repairing their lives, but those receiving treatment in prison and no aftercare exhibit the same kinds of behaviors and problems within 18 months of their release as those who received no treatment, she says.

"The reality is, in working with people who are trying to reintegrate, unless you have family or a support system, you're not going to make it," Donner says.

Society's failures

Charlene was incarcerated on a four-year sentence in May 2000. She was released into community corrections?a halfway house?by September. A year later, she was allowed to live on her own under intense supervision.

But on March 13, 2002, she was returned to prison for a disciplinary infraction, Morgan says.

Within six months, she was dead.

Did the Colorado correctional system fail Charlene Marquez?

"She's dead," Donner says. "How much more of a failure can there be? Part of the responsibility is hers, but part of the responsibility is ours. I wouldn't put all the responsibility on her shoulders because we could be doing things that are proven more effective."

The key to treating drug and alcohol problems effectively is to acknowledge them as medical and mental health problems, she says. Colorado places too much emphasis on punishment and the criminal aspect of addiction and far too little on effective treatment.

The funding situation is so bad in Colorado with regard to both drug treatment and mental health treatment that it should be considered a crisis, Donner says.

"The stick is bigger than the carrot," she says. "People with substance abuse problems are risking death. If that's not a deterrent, prison won't be."

Not only can drug addiction itself land a person in prison, but the normal recovery process, which includes relapses, is a criminal offense. People trying to work their way free of addiction find themselves in and out of prison and develop a sense of failure, Donner says.

"The criminal justice system just looks at what this person did on this day, and if they're guilty, they punish them," she says. "There are so many gaps in the social infrastructure."

Last year's legislative attempt to reduce some drug sentences and put that money toward treatment passed both houses of the state legislature but was vetoed by Governor Bill Owens, who has repeatedly voiced his opposition to shortening drug sentences?and his mistrust of drug-treatment programs.

"You lock people up in a cage in Canyon City and say the problem is solved," she says. "But it's not. The prison system becomes the dumping ground for all the areas where society is failing."

Where does Charlene fall into the picture?

"The bottom line is she's dead. She's just another victim of the drug war," Donner says. "The question that comes to mind is, 'Would Ms. Marquez be dead if she'd been in an inpatient treatment center instead of prison?'"

BRAND NEW STORIES