How to Stop a Prison Drug Ring with Analytics

How to Stop a Prison Drug Ring with Analytics

Guest Written by Jeff Silverman

Cross-queueing data is a simple concept that has profound impacts.

Do your “eyes” confirm what your “ears” heard? The art of pairing diverse intelligence platforms or methods of analysis can fill knowledge gaps, and thus paint a synergistic picture that is greater than its parts. Such methodology is a foundational element to how intelligence is conducted.

I’d love to tell you a few war stories that demonstrate that pairing the right nuggets of data can make all the difference in saving innocent lives — but as the saying goes, “that’s classified.” So instead of swimming in protected waters, I think the power of this concept can be showcased using a real-life example that did not occur overseas in exotic locations or with high tech intelligence platforms.

“I have had a varied career in Analytics and one of my most unique experiences was time spent as an Analysis Chief for a maximum-security military prison complex. My sole mission was to ensure the protection of our inmates and our correctional staff through the applications of analytics.”

As you can imagine, violence in prison is a near-inevitable occurrence given the close living proximity of the inmates, the behavioral issues that led to incarceration, and a general disquietude that exists between correctional staff and those they are imprisoning. Regardless of the situation, efforts must be made to minimize hostilities, de-escalate tempers, and ultimately, keep everyone alive and well. Our correctional officers did a fine job in handling the day-to-day issues within the prison, however, it fell on my team of analysts to see the larger forest through the trees and help prevent a catastrophe.

How to Stop a Prison Drug Ring with Analytics

A focus area that my boss, the Commandant (military prison-speak for Warden), was particularly concerned with was the introduction of narcotics into the prison. The collective wisdom of our senior correctional staff was that when drugs take hold, violence escalates, gangs form, and the danger increases tenfold. Thus I had a clear analytic focus.

TASK: Are drugs getting into the prison? If so, how can they be stopped?

Taking this intelligence requirement, my team used good old-fashioned intelligence methodology to deduce indicators and warning signals of when malfeasance was in play. We identified dozens of potential ways that such drug smuggling actions could occur and then devised a “cross-queued” or “mixed” test to confirm or deny if that approach was applicable. I will elaborate on some tests and their results to illustrate the method.


One way we hypothesized that narcotics could arrive into the prison was through the mail. As mail was only eyeball screened by staff, we introduced additional data collection methods, using chemical testing of paper (to ensure it was not laced with LSD/PCP), applying light tables for hidden material in a package, and drug sniffing canines to periodically review the mail room. The use of the various sensory methods (“eyes”- light table, “taste”- chem-paper, and “nose”- canines) helped determine that the mailroom was NOT an area of concern.

How to Stop a Prison Drug Ring with Analytics


We were diligent with our drug scenario reviews, and ultimately, our postulation that drugs could be smuggled by visiting relatives was proven to be accurate. Our testing paradigm of analyzing telephone call patterns to visitors cross-referenced with inmate prior history of drug abuse reduced our likely candidates to only a handful of potentials. With those candidates in mind, we honed our review of closed-circuit television (CCTV) of the visitation room to those candidates in question and our correctional staff laid in wait.

How to Stop a Prison Drug Ring with Analytics

Ultimately, our mixed sensors of phone logs, CCTV, and analysis of likely drug users confirmed our theory. Our team caught an inmate in the act of being slipped narcotics by his relatives as he shared with them a communal bag of chips, a privilege that is now no longer allowed by the visitation rules. Crisis contained!


A similar mindset of cross-queuing data can be applied to traditional business analytics and yield profound results. When you examine your business, develop an analytic hypothesis and determine the metrics and views that will help confirm or deny that hypothesis. Recognizing the needed “angles” of insight helps shape the necessary data that should be gathered and parsed.

Armed with the research and cross-queued data from “eyes” and “ears” and other analytics, executives on down were able to modify their approach to those tailored to better engage their industries.

A holistic approach to analytics, utilizing multiple versions and forms of analysis and information is a critical step to understanding the broader picture. Layering multiple forms of data, collected using “eyes”, “ears”, or any other medium in a mixed method, provides critical information to anyone making important decisions. The resultant cross-queueing of research can deepen your impact, grow your revenues or perhaps even break a drug ring.

Jeff Silverman is a business analytics specialist and aids commercial and government clients in developing analytic solutions. Jeff is also a field grade officer in the US Army Reserves where he still uses analytics to solve unique problems.
 This article originally appeared on LinkedIn