First inmate convicted under new contraband law

Mugshot of Joshua Combs, #84568
Joshua Combs, #84568

BOISE, Idaho, October 16, 2012 -- An inmate who was found to be in possession of a cell phone and chewing tobacco at North Idaho Correctional Institution in Cottonwood has become the first person convicted under the terms of a new law aimed at cracking down on contraband in correctional facilities in Idaho.

On September 13, Judge Michael Griffin sentenced Joshua Combs, I#84568, to a year in prison. The sentence will be served on top of the two— to five—year term he was given on January 12, 2012, in Nez Perce County for possession of a controlled substance. 

At the time Combs was caught with the contraband, he was enrolled in a one-year-long “retained jurisdiction” substance abuse program at NICI. If he had successfully completed the program, he would have likely been released in January 2013.

Now Combs won’t be eligible to be considered for parole until November 3, 2014. He is currently incarcerated at Idaho State Correctional Institution south of Boise.

“We consider this to be a serious crime because cell phones allow inmates to bypass security measures and direct criminal activity in our communities,” said Idaho County District Attorney Kirk MacGregor said. “They can also aid in the planning of an escape.”

Tobacco trafficking also takes a toll on people beyond the walls of Idaho’s prisons and jails. Inmates’ families are often forced to pay the debts that inmates accrue from the purchase of tobacco products from other inmates.

Those debts can be substantial. An ounce of chewing tobacco, which can be bought in a store for as little as $1.00, can generate as much as $80.00 depending on the prison and the quantities in which the tobacco is re-sold.

“The proceeds from tobacco sales often fuel gang activity in our prisons and make gangs more powerful,” said Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke. “This case shows we’re serious about cracking down.”

The tobacco and cell phone that led to the new charges against Combs were discovered on April 14, 2012. An IDOC probation and parole officer got a tip that the contraband was inside NICI and alerted the prison’s staff.  Correctional officers searched a tool shed at the prison and found four cans of chewing tobacco. The officers then searched a housing unit and found the cell phone and cell phone charger.

Idaho’s new contraband law was approved during this year’s legislative session.  It makes the introduction of more than three ounces of tobacco or a telecommunication device into a jail or correctional facility a felony that is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.  


Story published: 10/16/2012
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