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Is It Illegal to Bring Alcohol When Visiting Someone in Prison?


Let's say Martha's daughter is in prison for committing a robbery. Martha visits her daughter regularly but finds she has a tough time when she has to leave. To reduce some of the stresses she feels after seeing her daughter, she decides to take a flask of whiskey with her to the facility.

Unfortunately, when Martha arrives at the facility, the guards discover the alcohol stashed in her pocket. Now, she faces prison time of her own.

Why? In California, bringing contraband to a prison or jail is a felony.

What's the Law on Taking Alcohol to Prison?

California's statute concerning bringing alcohol and/or drugs to prison or jail is Penal Code 4573.5 PC.

It states that it's illegal for a person to knowingly take such substances with them not only to a prison or jail, but also to:

  • Any institution controlled by the Department of Corrections
  • A prison or road camp
  • A prison farm
  • An area where prisoners or inmates are located and under the custody of officers, guards, or other prison/jail employees

This blog began with a hypothetical scenario in which a woman took a flask of alcohol with her to a prison. However, the methods of transport aren't limited to that type of container. Under the law, bringing drugs or alcohol in any way, shape, or form is also unlawful. That means Martha could have been charged even if the whiskey was in a water bottle or its original sealed container.

Having the Substance on the Grounds Is Prohibited

In the example with Martha visiting her daughter at the prison, she was charged with a felony because the guards found the substance on her person. But what if Martha had left the alcohol in her car, which was parked on the property? Would she still have been violating the law?

The answer is yes. In this situation, she is still committing a crime. California Penal Code 4573.5 explicitly states that it is unlawful to have drugs or alcohol "within the grounds belonging to" a prison or jail. If employees at the facility had reason to suspect Martha had broken the law and received her permission to search her car, thereby finding the whiskey, they could arrest her.

Therefore, whether a person physically brings drugs or alcohol in with them while visiting someone in prison or they leave the substance in their vehicle for later, they’re committing an offense.

This blog uses as an example a person visiting a loved one in prison, but the law doesn’t apply only in that situation. It applies to anyone on prison or jail grounds. A guard, for instance, could also be charged for engaging conduct similar to Martha’s.

What Are the Penalties for Bringing Contraband to Prison or Jail?

As mentioned earlier, if a person has drugs or alcohol on them when they're at a prison or jail, they could be charged with a felony. A conviction could result in imprisonment for 16 months, or 2 or 3 years incarceration.

If you're facing criminal charges in Santa Barbara, get 40 years of combined legal experience on your side by calling Appel & Morse at (805) 467-6060 or contacting us online.

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