First charge filed using Idaho’s new prison contraband law

Four chewing tobacco containers in an evidence bag
Tobacco seized at NICI on April 14

BOISE, June 1, 2012 — For the first time an inmate has been charged with a crime under the terms of a new Idaho law aimed at preventing cell phones and tobacco from being smuggled into the state’s prisons and jails.

On May 17, 2012, Idaho County Prosecutor Kirk MacGregor charged Joshua Combs, IDOC #84568, with possession of a cell phone and chewing tobacco at North Idaho Correctional Institution in Cottonwood.

“We consider this to be a serious crime because cell phones allow inmates to bypass security measures and direct criminal activity in our communities,” 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 a 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.

If convicted of the news charge, Combs faces an additional five years in prison. On January 12, 2012 in Nez Perce County, a judge sentenced Combs to two to five years in prison for possession of a controlled substance. But he could have been released after just one year if he had successfully met the terms of NICI’s retained jurisdiction program.

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.   

Before the law went into effect, the crime was a misdemeanor and punishable by no more than six months in jail or a fine of less than $1,000.





Story published: 06/01/2012
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