More than five dozen current and former state prison guards were arrested in 2016 and charged with smuggling drugs into prisons in exchange for bribes. 
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Former corrections officer convicted of smuggling drugs into prison

A former Georgia corrections officer has been convicted of accepting bribe payments to smuggle drugs and other contraband into a South Georgia prison, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday. 

Investigators say Jokelra Copeland, 32, smuggled marijuana into Autry State Prison on several occasions, hiding the packages under her uniform as she passed through security on her way into work. 

Over a four-month period in mid-2015, she accepted more than $13,000 in bribe payments from the family members of at least two inmates, prosecutors said.

Financial records indicate payments were wired to the corrections officer on at least 11 occasions. 

Copeland worked only several months at the penitentiary in Pelham, located about 215 miles south of Atlanta.

“It’s troubling that Copeland was willing to sell her oath of office by breaking the very laws she had only months before promised to enforce,” U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak said. “Smuggling contraband into our state prisons is a dangerous business. It compromises the safety of everyone in the prison — inmates, corrections officers and other employees. This type of conduct will not be tolerated.”

RELATED: 46 Georgia prison guards sentenced for transporting drugs

Copeland was one of 68 Georgia corrections officers arrested by the FBI in 2016 following an extensive federal investigation into officers smuggling contraband into prisons for money while others used their credentials to protect drug deals on the outside, according to the DOJ.

Other corrections officers were sentenced for smuggling what they believed was cocaine and methamphetamine to incarcerated members of the Ghost Face gang.  

The operation — much of it captured on video — is one of the biggest corruption scandals ever to hit Georgia’s prison system.

The arrests sprang from another 2014 probe into corruption at two state lockups in Gwinnett and Mitchell counties, where inmates were running scams using cellphones officers had smuggled in for them. The federal investigation grew to involve more than 100 people at nine prisons across the state.

MORE: Feds’ latest Georgia prisons sting leads to 49 arrests

Copeland, who lives in Doerun, will be sentenced May 1.

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