A guard at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility has been locked up in the halls she once patrolled after investigators say she helped smuggle Suboxone into the jail on behalf of an inmate.
Shahonda Groves, 49, was arrested late Tuesday and charged with providing contraband to a confined person and related offenses. She was unable to post $50,000 bail and remained in custody at the jail Wednesday. There was no indication she had hired an attorney.
District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, in announcing the charges, said his office will “prosecute those caught smuggling contraband into George W. Hill to the fullest extent of the law.”
“The fact that the contraband in this case was being smuggled in by a corrections officer, whose duty it was to protect our citizens, makes this crime even more egregious, and does a disservice to all the honorable men and women who work in the field of corrections,” Stollsteimer said.
The GEO Group, the private company that operates George W. Hill, said in a statement that it has zero tolerance for contraband and worked closely with county investigators.
“This effort was part of our ongoing work with law enforcement and other local agencies to eliminate the introduction of contraband into the facility,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “We appreciate the swift actions by the investigative team and county prosecutor and will continue to work with authorities to provide any necessary information that is needed going forward.”
Groves, of Magnolia, Camden County, smuggled Suboxone strips into the jail in exchange for money on at least five occasions between March and July, according to the affidavit of probable cause for her arrest.
Suboxone is a sublingual strip, often taken orally, that is traditionally used by patients withdrawing from opioid use. It produces effects similar to opioids when taken.
The smuggling operation was discovered July 29, when a search of the inmate’s cell uncovered 10 packages of Suboxone, the affidavit said. During their investigation, detectives learned that Groves would meet with a friend of the inmate at Wawa or McDonald’s just before her evening shift at the jail.
One of the exchanges was recorded on surveillance video and showed Groves receiving the drugs while wearing her jail uniform, according to the affidavit.
The issue of contraband entering George W. Hill has been a frequent topic of discussion in recent months for the county’s Jail Oversight Board. At the board’s June meeting, Warden Lee Tatum said that increasing numbers of illegal drugs and cellphones had been entering the facility in recent months and that the jail had instituted tighter policies and procedures in an attempt to curb the problem, including more frequent searches of cells.
Public visitation to the facility has been suspended since last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Tatum has said staff members were the likely source of the contraband. Groves’ arrest marked the first time since the pandemic lockdown that a staff member was charged with smuggling drugs into the jail.
One of the board members who works closely with recovery programs at the jail, Brian Corson, said Wednesday that he was disappointed that a guard was allegedly involved in a smuggling operation.
“A prison may never be perfect, but having contraband inside there runs totally counter to what we’re trying to do,” he said. “As we continue to boost resources, we want to shut down access to this contraband to give inmates the best chance at recovery.”