Samir Kešetović, a 21-year-old sent to Zenica prison for three years for robbery, has learned a new trade there: drug dealing. Kešetović found he could make good money selling to inmates, at least until he became addicted to his own heroin.
‘In the beginning I wasn’t using’ he said. ‘Later I got completely ruined – I used everything I bought.’
Kešetović’s story is not unusual. Drugs are rampant in prisons around Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), and inmates with no prior history of use are being introduced to narcotics and to dealing. In the worst cases, prisoners that have survived a criminal life on the street die of an overdose in Bosnia’s prison system.
Reporters from the Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN) talked to dozens of inmates in Foča, Zenica, Tuzla, Sarajevo and Mostar prisons. Over and over, inmates said the same thing– drugs are a lucrative business for prison dealers, who can get five times the normal street value.
Haris Martinović, 28, and Silvad Lilić, 30, now in Sarajevo prison, used to be inmates at Zenica. They say many people try drugs for the first time in prison. According to them, younger prisoners are typically drawn in by older inmates, who give out heroin for free in the beginning as a way to get future customers.
Redžo Kahrić, a criminologist in Zenica prison, says most prisoners take drugs because they have trouble adapting to incarceration and prison life.
‘At those difficult moments dealers break the prisoners. He takes it once, twice and he’s already an addict’ Kahrić says.
Ibrahim Prohić, a psychologist and assistant director for treatment at Tuzla prison, thinks that those who take drugs in prisons are predisposed to drug use.
‘Those who are weak, they need just one frustrating situation, and prison is a frustrating situation. Their capability to prevail in those challenges is not enough to keep them on the surface, they can’t stand it and not take drugs’ he said.
Prison Drug Smuggling
Instances of prisoners caught with drugs have gone up. Guards caught five prisoners inside Republika Srpska (RS) facilities in 2005. Last year, 19 were caught in the entity’s six prisons. In Tuzla, the number has grown from two to nine between 2002 and 2007.
Prohić, who has worked in Tuzla prison since 1974, said it is no wonder more drugs are being found since the number of addicts and dealers is growing all the time. ‘When I started working, the addicts were exceptions in the prisoner population, and today there are certain treatment groups where the percentage is between 20 and 40, and sometimes even 50 percent.’
While all prisons have had problems with drugs, Zenica, home of the largest population with 800 inmates, including many violent offenders and a number of major drug dealers, has had the biggest problem.
According to Kahrić, organized drug groups operate in Zenica.
Between March and December 2007, 26 prisoners were caught with drugs. When 12 people were found with drugs in August alone, authorities separated eight prisoners whom they identified as direct or indirect participants in drug dealing. Drug seizures dropped significantly in the next couple of months.
Before being placed in isolation for six months for fighting, Kešetović belonged to one of the groups. ‘I saw other prisoners who were already working with drugs. I saw you could make good money. I took part of the drugs for myself and the rest I mixed with plywood, for example. If the stuff was good, on 20 grams I added six, seven grams of mix.’
The economics are hard to resist.
The price of drugs in prison is much higher than on the street.
For example, a gram of heroin can be divided into 10 to 15 ‘lines’ which are sold for 30 KM each. By comparison, street heroin can be bought for 10 KM for a similar dose. Inmates pay with 30 KM telephone cards. A dealer can earn from 300 KM to 450 KM per gram.
A typical addict will easily consume 1 gram or more per day if it is available.
Besides financial gain, there are other equally important benefits for those who sell drugs in prison. By increasing the number of users, dealers can create a circle of people who owe them favors.
Convicts get their drugs from various sources. The easiest way is to smuggle the drugs into prison themselves. BiH law allows for prisoners who behave well to leave the prison for a few days, called ‘weekends.’ Most drug seizures occurred when prisoners returned to prison from this time off.
Dealers and prisoners higher on the social ladder use favors, threats or blackmail to force weaker inmates to bring them drugs. A dealer will arrange a meeting between a prisoner taking a weekend leave and a dealer. After picking up the drugs, the prisoner packs the drugs in a condom and either swallows them or hides them in his anus. Most BiH prisons have encountered these methods in their drug seizures.
Visitors bring in drugs too. Prison officials in Tuzla said a mother tried to sneak drugs in for her son. In Foča prison, officials said they found drugs in the bra of a female visitor.
Sarajevo police are investigating whether a lawyer was trying to bring an unspecified amount of marijuana into Sarajevo prison. Guards found the drug in a cigarette pack as lawyer Bajro Čilić was entering the prison to see a client. Čilić in currently being held while prosecutors and police investigate the case.
No Crime and No Time
Inmates caught with drugs in Federation of BiH (FBiH) prison are not charged with any crime or sentenced to more time.
While in prison, Samir Kešetović was caught with 4 grams of heroin and 0.2 grams of marijuana in 2007. The drugs were confiscated and a report was submitted to the cantonal prosecution office. However, Kešetović was never indicted.
That’s because FBiH Criminal Law says that if someone serving a sentence in prison commits a crime punishable up to one year, such as possession of drugs, they face only disciplinary action rather than having time added to their sentence. Inmates instead face a punishment of up to 20 days in solitary confinement.
The RS law treats possession as a misdemeanor and fines perpetrators between 500 and 1,500 KM. An additional criminal sanction law punishes inmates with up to 30 days in solitary confinement.
Prosecutors can charge inmates with dealing drugs, which carries a much higher sentence – one to 10 years in prison – and would increase sentence lengths. But to prove a prisoner was dealing drugs, the prosecutor has to prove who the inmate bought drugs from, who the inmate sold them to and for how much. Inmates are not likely to testify against a fellow inmate, so prosecutors almost never prosecute.
One prison official wishes prosecutors would try harder.
‘They don’t realize what kind of problems we have because of that’ Kahrić said.
Guards Helping Dealers
Most inmates told CIN reporters that guards are part of the prison drug networks.
In a few cases, prison guards were allegedly smuggling drugs. A guard from Sarajevo prison was fired, while in Travnik there is an ongoing investigation of employees at the Tomislavgrad prison.
Adnan Šetka, who worked as a prison guard in Mostar prison, was fired in July 2006 for abuse of official duty and authority. The disciplinary court of Mostar prison determined that he was allegedly extorting money from inmates. They also said there was evidence indicating Šetka carried cell phones and drugs into the detention department.
According to operational records from the Herzegovina-Nertva Canton Ministry of Interior (MUP), Šetka was allegedly involved in an illegal narcotics network in the Herzegovina area while working as a prison guard.
Miroslav Bem, director of Mostar prison, has heard allegations of misconduct but said solidarity among prison guards makes any allegations difficult to prove.
‘Information has been passed to me by guards that they were told by superiors… that if they find something that looks like drugs, they should destroy it to avoid having to investigate and write a report.’
Coming to Prison to Die
There were possibly five fatalities from heroin overdoses in the past three years in BiH prisons.
Elvir Sejdinović, 22, was found dead in Doboj district prison in 2005. A toxicology report showed Sejdinović consumed heroin, which could have caused his death.
Zvonimir Čabrajić, 28, also died from heroin in a Zenica prison cell. When Čabrajić was found unconscious in his cell in November of 2006, prison guards suspected that he overdosed and promptly transferred him to a hospital in Zenica. After some time, Čabrajić regained consciousness, started communicating and was able to walk. Two hours after he was admitted, doctors sent him back to the prison hospital.
When prison guards came to his room to check on him, they say he became violent and placed him in a padded cell under video surveillance. After Čabrajić calmed down, guards checked on his condition with video monitors and occasionally visited him. At 4 am, he died.
According to a report by the Institute of Forensic Medicine and Criminology at the Zagreb School of Medicine, Čabrajić’s death was due to a heroin mixture.
An inmate at Tuzla prison, Fuad Girotić, died from a heroin overdose in late December of 2007. A Tuzla Canton MUP investigation found that Ines Stanković, his common law wife, transferred a package of heroin to Girotić when kissing. Girotić died of an overdose late that night. Stanković has been charged with possession and enabling the abuse of narcotics.
There are allegations that two inmates have died in Bosnian prisons from drug use, but the official toxicology results have not yet arrived at the prosecutors’ offices.