If you have a family member or friend who is incarcerated, it may seem like a nice idea to bring them food, money, or gifts when you visit them in prison. However, prisons in New York and elsewhere have very strict rules about what items can and cannot be brought into the prison. Prisoners and visitors who violate these rules can get into serious trouble, including being charged with a crime. You should never bring anything into a prison unless you are certain that it is permitted.
For more information on what you can bring to a state prison visit in New York, see the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision's Family Guide.
For information on visiting federal prisons, see the Federal Bureau of Prison's Visiting Room Procedures: General Information.
Contraband is anything that is not permitted in a prison or other correctional facility. In New York, bringing contraband into a prison is a crime, as is possessing contraband if you are a prisoner. New York state law defines contraband as anything that a prisoner is prohibited from "obtaining or possessing" by any "statute, rule, regulation or order." So, contraband can include both items that are illegal for anyone to possess, such as recreational drugs and stolen goods, and anything that is prohibited by prison rules. For example, in New York, prisoners are not allowed to have cell phones, alcohol, or money. There are also restrictions on what can be brought into a state prison. Prohibited items include black thread, dried fruit, and thong underwear.
Dangerous contraband. New York's laws distinguish between contraband and "dangerous contraband," which is anything that could be used to endanger the safety or security of the prison or anyone in the prison. Bringing dangerous contraband into a correctional facility (or possessing dangerous contraband) is punished more severely.
An item is dangerous contraband if it is likely to be used to cause death or serious injury, to help a prisoner escape, or to pose a threat to the prison's security. New York lawmaker's have introduced legislation to more specifically define dangerous contraband, but so far these efforts have not been successful. Examples of dangerous contraband include weapons, objects that could be used as a weapon (such as a sharpened piece of metal), architectural drawings of a prison, and large amounts of drugs that are intended to be sold inside the prison.
(N.Y. Pen. Law § § 205.00, 205.20, 205.25).
Criminal conviction. Under New York's laws, a person who brings contraband into a facility or a prisoner who possesses contraband is guilty of a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and not more than $1,000 in fines. (N.Y. Pen. Law § § 205.20, 205.25.) Bringing dangerous contraband into a prison or detention facility or possessing dangerous contraband in a prison is a class D felony, punishable by one to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. Of course, for prisoners, any criminal sentence will be in addition to the time they are already serving.
Prison consequences. Prisoners who are found with contraband can also lose their privileges, including visitation, or be placed in administrative segregation. Prison rule violations can also impact a person's chances of being paroled. Visitors caught with weapons, drugs, or other contraband can have their prison visits suspended, temporarily or permanently.
If you or a prisoner you know is charged with a crime as a result of prison contraband, you should talk to an attorney who has experience defending against such charges. A criminal conviction can have extremely serious consequences. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you navigate the criminal justice system and, hopefully, obtain the best possible outcome in your case.