'High' pineapple undermines prisoners' perks

  • 2005-04-27
  • By Milda Seputyte
VILNIUS - A small roll of bagged hemp hidden within a chunk of cheese was found on April 12 in a food package addressed to a Siauliai inmate. A bag of coffee smartly 'seasoned' with amphetamine powder was addressed to the same recipient. A sumptuous pineapple stuffed with a dollop of cannabis was also recently discovered.

For years, such motley parcels have been used to smuggle drugs, mobile phones and other prohibited objects into the country's prison system. But on April 21 Parliament put an end to all of it.

Politicians finally decided to help prison employees working from dusk to dawn looking through food packages for ingeniously hidden items, and starting next year convicts in the Lithuanian correctional system will no longer have the right to indulge in food supplies brought from outside.

"This step in Parliament was a necessary and logical decision. It's a pity they didn't do this earlier. One of the channels, which was used to obtain drugs, will be closed down," said Saulius Caplinskas, director of the country's AIDS center.

In 2004, friends and family members of Lithuania's convicts secretly tried to send a total of some 51.5 liters of alcohol, 593 grams of narcotics, 234 mobile phones, 93 SIM cards and 1,260 sharp objects, data from the Interior Ministry's imprisonment department showed.

Some officers in Vilnius' Lukiskiu prison must examine 50 tons of food per year.

Strangely enough, Lithuania was the last country in the EU still allowing prisoners to receive food supplies from home. Other European countries permit convicts to shop in jail stores for necessities such as food. Now, only Belarusian and Russian prisons still accept foodstuffs from the outside world.

As of Jan. 1, 2005, inmates will be able to obtain additional food from prison shops using stipends from special accounts. For those inmates whose families are economically deprived, the prison's administration will provide 37 litas (11 euros) in monthly allowance for goods.

Lawmakers behind the legislation expect that the amount of prohibited material smuggled into state penitentiaries will diminish 10 times after the law comes into force.

Moreover, food packages were indicated as one of the major factors aggravating the drug situation in prisons. In 2002, the biggest ever HIV eruption was registered in Alytus prison, where 222 prisoners were infected through syringes delivered either in food packages or over the jail's fence.

Experts, however, doubt that the new law will entirely preclude the inflow of drugs and mobile phones.

"We shouldn't be naive in believing that this will evict narcotics from prisons. A number of other steps, a complex of tools must be implemented in order to change the situation," said Caplinskas.

Indeed, although one of the channels is closed, another 's the prison fence 's still raises concerns. It is said that mobile phones and drugs are constantly flying over the Alytus prison wall. Drugs are usually packed in tennis-balls; to increase their flying ability, a small stone is embedded into the ball. The persistent hurlers manage to sling the ball over the three fences of different height. Sometimes even special slingshots are employed.

Mobile phones are usually implanted into a scooped piece of soap, which is later melted back to its original shape and prepared for a flight over the fence. Alytus last week broke the record 's the officers of the Alytus prison traced down 14 mobile phones, which people attempted to throw over the fence in just one day.

Having a phone in jail, the convicts cheat people out of their money. Thousands of litas have been swindled out of credulous people, who believe in mock lotteries arranged by prisoners on the phone.