Prison-Racketeering Drug Conspiracies

The exterior of the Eastern Correctional Institution is shown in 2014 in Westover, Md.

A former corrections officer at Maryland’s largest prison has been sentenced to time in a federal penitentiary for her role in a smuggling scheme and inmate stabbing.

Chief U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar sentenced former Eastern Correctional Institution correctional officer Rachelle Hankerson, 28, to four years in federal prison Friday. Hankerson pleaded guilty in 2016 to charges of participating in a racketeering conspiracy and participating in the stabbing of an inmate.

Hankerson was among 18 correctional officers, along with 35 incarcerated people and 27 “outside facilitators,” indicted in 2016 during a federal crackdown on criminal activity at ECI, in Somerset County. Hankerson and other officers were accused of smuggling in narcotics, cellphones, and other contraband in exchange for money and sometimes sex from inmates, according to court documents.

With a capacity of 3,400 inmates, ECI is the largest state prison in Maryland.

Hankerson received hundreds of dollars from inmates in exchange for packages of Suboxone strips, synthetic cannabis, tobacco and cellphones. She and the other officers communicated about the smuggling with inmates using contraband phones.

On July 21, 2016, Hankerson induced David Bond to stab another inmate with whom she had argued, according to the plea agreement she signed in November 2016. Hankerson allowed Bond to move between tiers and into the targeted inmate’s cell.

Hankerson left the tier and told Bond to lie to other authorities about where she was at the time of the attack, according to court documents. The victim was later taken to a shock trauma center.

Cutting down on contraband entering prisons has been a major project of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. The department has cited smuggling of the opioid addiction treatment medication Suboxone, which typically comes in thin strips, as justification for banning greeting cards, letters and books from certain sources.

Suboxone strips typically cost $3 each, but in ECI, inmates were selling them for $50, according to court records. The medication blocks similar receptors in the human brain as heroin and is used to treat opioid use disorder.

In the summer of 2016, before the indictments, the department announced a ban on inmates receiving letters other than legal correspondence and postcards, The Washington Post reported. The department called off the ban after criticism from lawyers and civil liberties advocates.

A similar situation occurred earlier this year, when the department announced and later rescinded a ban on book deliveries ordered from popular providers such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Hankerson will be subject to three years of supervised release after her sentence. Seventy-six of the other defendants indicted in the conspiracy, including 15 correctional officers, have also been convicted.

The defendants who have been sentenced are serving terms ranging from 12 to 65 months in prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland.

Follow Cameron Dodd on Twitter: @CameronFNP.

(1) comment


4 years for a prison guard running a violent drug gang inside a state prison is a slap on the wrist.

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