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Little things can mean a lot

August 2nd, 2013

One of the most fundamental mistakes corrections professionals can make is to underestimate a threat. For example, a smaller inmate may be disregarded as a potential hazard because the inmate is not overtly formidable. Yet, when a diminutive offender uses the element of surprise in an assault, size is of no importance.

The same is true with objects. Little items may seem harmless, but that is not necessarily so. There is a certain class of items called nuisance contraband. This is any item that is not overtly threatening. A nuisance contraband item can be something that is small and often commonplace.

Part of the nuisance is that some staff consider the item as an inconvenient incident about which to write a misconduct report. Granted, there are only so many hours in a day and so much contraband to remove from the system. But, one is more likely to issue a ticket over a four inch shank made from the top of a metal can from the kitchen than for a spool of dental floss.

Here are some little, seemingly harmless items that could pose danger in your facility:

Plastic wrap – This is easily found in kitchens, as spare garbage can liners, and in packaging from the commissary. Plastic wrap conceals the odor of tobacco and is shrinkable with heat. It repels water so things can be hidden in toilet tanks. With plastic wrap, pills can be protected and hidden in petroleum jelly or peanut better by.

Staples & Tape – Common is classrooms, offices, libraries and in mail items, staples and tape are often overlooked by staff. If applied correctly, these can hinder keys from opening locks. Another hazard is the sticky utility of tape. Enough tape can conceal notes of instruction and weaponsin a drop and pass location quite out of view of staff.

Dental floss – Fishing season never ends inside the walls. And dental floss is a great way for contrabandists of all levels to pass information and goods between cells. Dental floss is the high end fishing line in this environment.

Newspaper – The formula is simple: N + W + F + D = W. Newspaper plus water plus formation (application of hand pressure and shaping) allowed to dry can equal a weapon. Believe it or not, a tightly wound newspaper, alternatively moistened and dried, can become a hard club.

Candy – Sweets of any description are the ultimate trading commodity. Local economics will determine worth – X number of hard candy equals a good or service. Though most prisoners are not allowed to possess coins or dollars, candy serves as a sort of illegal tender. Also, candy can be sharpened by saliva. This may not make the most formidable sticker. But, with surprise, candy could be harmful.

Here are some tips to thwart mini-menaces:
• Secure all nuisance contraband, even if a misconduct cannot be written,
• Look at office and trash areas for contraband opportunities and fix possible breaches,
• Use effective searches on prisoners and in their areas of control,
• Do not take small things for granted,
• Record all incidents where nuisance contraband is a part and share with staff and control center.

Of course, not all little things are connected to a large, nefarious scheme to topple all control and safety measures. However, little things can mean a lot. Nuisance contraband left unchecked can embolden would-be contrabandists. The plastic bag that you confiscate can actually be the container for a substance that once traded can cause violence and chaos.

Contraband Control

Deferred duties and motivations

July 13th, 2013

In corrections, safety is the first priority. This is written in almost every mission statement for prison and jails. But, other duties need to be done. Accreditations, audits, budgeting and other tasks are a part of the corrections game.

Not all tasks are created equally. Some of these are less desirable to do. Though they are necessary, they are placed on the back burner, thus they become deferred.

This is not unlike a job at home that you would sooner delay. For example, I ran out of storage options, so the need was great. It was a daunting task that I had put off for too long. Still, part of me resisted what had to be done. After all, my garage would not clean itself.

Let me preface this with a peek into my work habits. I work hard. I am not lazy. I do not usually procrastinate. In fact, I consider myself to be the antithesis of a procrastinator, a precrastinator, if you will.

What is my problem, you may ask? Quite simply, there are some tasks to which I do not march willingly.

As I slowly walked toward the garage with the best intentions of making order out of chaos, my justification mechanism leaped into high gear. I suddenly had a list in my head of “more important” tasks to be done. I had to clean the drier lint trap, dust the base boards, and rearrange my junk drawer. Of course, correspondence which could realistically wait became a red hot priority, despite the dwindling space in the garage.

I found myself deferring duties so that I could work on less important tasks. What did I have to do, lie to myself? That was really not the answer. I had to figure out a few different incentives.

Seven productive self-motivation strategies:
1. Tell yourself that you will feel better when the dreaded job is complete.
2. You can reward yourself with a coffee or some other incentive when you finish.
3. Eat the elephant one bite at a time – spilt the task into smaller, more manageable tasks.
4. Dive into the cold pool and swim until you are warm or bear it.
5. Tell yourself that you are capable of doing the job well in a reasonable time and prove .yourself correct.
6. Tell someone that you respect of your timeline. This gives you incentive not to disappoint.
7. Quit over thinking it and DO IT.

Like some important audit that is due sooner than you wish, a task can hang heavy over your work week. As you let time slip away, the weight of the task seems to grow on your shoulders. This makes you reckon time left to complete the task in an unrealistic manner. In most cases, it is a battle with yourself. The key to the battle is found in the right motivation.

Self Scrutiny

Cell phone detection: A simplified approached

July 7th, 2013

There once was a man who was frustrated by flies in his house. The flying menaces buzzed him while he slept and pestered him as he watched television. Enough was enough! He was frustrated and had to do something. He called in a few experts.

The first expert sponsored electronic bug zappers. He proposed that there should be one in every room. The man voiced his distress over a high cost “You can’t set a price on piece of mind” said the expert.

The second expert excelled in arachnids. She suggested that nests of spiders should be placed in every room. Her motto was “let nature do the work for you.” Even more frustrated than when faced solely with flies, the man asked about the discomfort he would feel with a house full of spiders. The arachnid specialist said, “But that would get rid of the problem. Don’t you want to get rid of the flies?”

Expert number three advocated a complete gassing of the house. The man followed this advice and abandoned his house before the fumigation began. This was the nuclear option, but the man was desperate. Eventually, the air cleared, revealing the tiny corpses of many flies. Despite the strong measures, somehow more flies returned after a week.

Expert number four, after hearing the tactics of the three predecessors, simply picked up a news paper and swatted the nearest flying insect. This was an inexpensive, direct solution.

He then told the man to keep a lid on the trash can, fix the holes in the screen, and look for other entrances. “As long as they can get in,” said the pragmatic expert, “you will have problems no matter what solution you utilize. Isolate all possible entrances and you have the solution.”

Flies are simply a nuisance. Cell phones are dangerous. Of course, comparing apples to oranges is like comparing insects to technological wonders. Still we can learn a few things from this parallel.

There should be no doubt in the mind of any corrections professional that cell phones are dangerous inside the walls. They can record and send sensitive data. The common cell phone serves as a communications hub for criminal enterprises. In addition, cell phones get smaller and smarter as time passes. It is increasingly easier for prisoners to conceal them.

Technology does not have to be our master. In fact, we can make it our servant. There are many ways to detect and block cell phones. We can even train dogs to help find the electronic menaces in our facilities. The innovations are great and varied. I personally believe that they should be explored. However, I believe that the technical solution is only part of the strategy for safety.

It is time to remember our chief strength as a profession. We should place an emphasis on blocking phones from coming in to the facility. We need to recommit to finding and fortifying all entry portals. This, partnered with a technical or canine method, will remove dangerous contraband and enhance safety.

Really, there are three basic ways that contraband enters our jails and prisons. It is something I call E.V.i.L. origins – a mnemonic that means Employee, Visitor, and Let in.

Employee – As corrections professionals, we wish that staff corruption did not exist. Unfortunately, a small percentage of our colleagues dabble in the illegal trade. Whether bought, maneuvered, or coerced, employee mules in the service of offenders deal a grievous blow to the structure of security. Cell phones continue to be a hot commodity that compromised staff introduce to the facility.

Visitor – Most people who have do not quite grasp the reason for so many rules in the operation of a correctional facility. Despite this, many visitors each day comply with instruction from staff. However, as with employees, there are a small number of visitors who circumvent the rules and introduce contraband into the facility. Visitors may also understand the dangers of contraband in the hands of offenders and continue to ignore rules and break the law.

Let in – This is a large category. Contraband that is let in is hidden from detection as it enters the facility from the outside. This can be as nefariously clever as small bits of narcotic laced crayons used to create a drawing that is sent through the mail. The hollowed legal brief is a popular vessel as well. Camouflage arrows filled with drugs and shot into the yard is a strange but documented occurrence. Let us not forget the cell phone that escapes detection in a new commitment’s anatomy.

All of this is not to say that electronic, canine and chemical cell phone detection methods are ineffective. In fact these complement our basic entry blocking strategies. And it may belabor the obvious to suggest that we look harder. Still, though it appears simple, the EViL search is really a methodical way of uncovering contraband.

Realistically speaking, we will never completely eliminate all cell phones from reaching willing and dangerous hands. But, without the efforts, we simply allow peril to mount. The technical solutions are like utilizing complex mathematics for problems that need complex mathematics. There is room for these and they should be explored. Yet, we should never forget the simple arithmetic. Sometimes, components in any solution are simpler than originally thought.

Bouchard, Joe “E.V.I.L. Origins: How Did the Contraband Get In?” July 4, 2011

Contraband Control

The story of the “Sanchez Knife”

July 1st, 2013

Many years ago, I worked in a factory setting. It was a shop that provided heat treatment of steel tools such as dies, broaches, punches, and inserts. My job was to temper steel in molten salt baths. Essentially, we applied heated salt to steel as a strengthening measure. As I preformed the associated tempering tasks, I did not stop to consider the simple roots of the craft of metallurgy. That is, not until I heard about the Sanchez Knife.

One time at the shop, I mentioned to a colleague named Al that it was difficult to trim the jungle-like grass from my sidewalk and driveway. Al said, “Hold on, Bouchard. I have just the thing. Let me get you a Sanchez Knife”

After a few minutes of rummaging, he produced what looked like a homemade butcher knife. Its blade was about nine inches long and clearly made from an old discarded tool called an insert. It was a bit uneven and rusty. The blade had irregular dents, as though someone had tried to pound it straight with a specialized hammer. The handle, roughly 4 inches long, was constructed of two pieces of wood bound around the base of the blade with dirty, worn duct tape. It truly looked like a failed shop project.

Evidently, I could not conceal my disappointment, because the Al said, “Don’t judge it by looks, son. Go to the grinder and sharpen it. Take it home and try it on your edging project.”

Al was right. The steel was effective, almost magical. I simply pressed the knife along the pavement and pulled back. The tough vegetation yielded to the tool. I tamed the jungle of my lawn and rescued the sidewalk from disorder. Like a hot blade through butter, the Sanchez Knife did the job.

I reported back to Al and thanked him. Normally, Al was quiet, punctuating silences with an occasional witticism or remarkably caustic (but true) comment. This time was different. He told me the history of the Sanchez Knife.

In 1954, Al started his career in the shop. Louie Sanchez worked with young Al and took him under his wing. As time went on, Sanchez revealed tricks of the steel heat treatment trade to Al. He would pepper in a few stories of his experiences during World War Two. Sanchez served in the European Theatre. He was captured by the enemy and held in a prison camp for a few years. He told Al that he and other imprisoned Allied troops acquired steel occasionally, despite the efforts to the contrary of their captors. They sometimes hardened the steel by using water, heat, and salt.

After the war, Sanchez brought his knife making abilities to the shop and crafted blades for heavy-duty use for his friends and colleagues. I never met Mr. Sanchez, as he left prior to my arrival. Al has since passed. I never got to ask him if the Sanchez Knife that he gave to me in the 1980’s was a “Louie Original”. I like to think that it was crafted by Mr. Sanchez.

My life’s path veered away from the steel shop. I started a job in a maximum security prison as a librarian. Training, stories, and other factors made me aware of contraband and security-conscious. However, when I saw my first prison-made knife, I could only think about Sanchez’s experiences. I am not a believer of mysticism. But the eerie foreshadowing of my corrections career in the steel shop was notable.

That prison made-knife may not have been tempered by heat and salt. But, the tools to do so were available. The opportunities would have been few, but still possible. Prisoners could acquire salt, heat, and water. True, they did not have access to sodium nitrite and salt bath furnaces. However, the fundamentals were attainable.

This may suggest that prisoners routinely apply a metallurgical process in the construction of a shank. I do not believe that this is true. In fact, I believe that this is quite rare.

One could speculate if it any prison-made blade is tempered. But, this is a secondary consideration. Primarily, staff are grateful that the shank is discovered. The speculation starts of its origin and path at the point of discover. In the end, it is about staff controlling tools, materials and opportunities.

The players in the stories have diametrically opposed roles. Sanchez was a captured soldier, a fighter for democracy behind enemy lines. The blade in prison was manufactured by someone who was lawfully incarcerated and who sought to make himself (and the prison) more dangerous. There may be some similarities in the motives. But, my perspective on each of the characters is different. Clearly, we hope for Sanchez’s success and the thwarting of the contrabandist prisoner.

I wonder if Mr. Sanchez knew that his survival in a German POW camp would later reflect in his steel working vocation. I also ponder if Sanchez might get a bit of satisfaction from knowing that his stories to Al helped make me more aware of the dangers of contraband. Whatever the answers may be, I have more than a useful knife. I also have a noble contraband story attached to a durable, heavy-duty blade.

Contraband Control

Thank you, Isaac Asimov and George Carlin

June 30th, 2013

Who is your muse? How do you remain inspired year after year? What is it that pushes you to deliver new and exciting information to inspire your students?

As I write this in June 2013, I am rapidly approaching a writing milestone. By the time you read this, I will have passed the 1,000 mark in published articles in the corrections field. As I give myself a vigorous pat on the back and utter a few phrases like “atta boy, tiger!”

Having dispensed of the self-congratulations, allow me to I reflect back on the journey of fourteen years.

First, the graphomania was kindled Gogebic Community College. The notes and quirky stories that would become articles and books were initially written for students. It was my way of helping pre-professionals grasp the odd nuances and subtleties of institutional life. The need to express these concepts was the catalyst.

The needs of students served as motivation for the content. Coffee, personal satisfaction and a little bit of ego (Yes, I lay bare my flaws for all to inspect and discuss) fueled the momentum.

I also had some help. The assistance came from two dead men. One is Isaac Asimov and the other is George Carlin.

I admire Asimov for his prolific nature as a writer, his sense of humor, and his clarity. Whenever the haunting specter of writers’ block reared its phantasmagoric head, I could read a little Asimov fiction and find my way back from wordlessness. Thank you, Asimov.

I admire Carlin for his scathing and unapologetic comedy/commentary. His bovine-scatometer was a sensitive instrument of analysis. He could laugh at himself and the world. Carlin’s strange mix of intellect and profanity was unique enough to jolt my brain out of occasional block. Thank you, Carlin.

Different circumstances of writers’ block require different fixes. It is similar to how people select music to fit their mood. To me, Asimov is classic rock with intricate arrangements (Blue Oyster Cult comes to mind). Carlin represents angry but intelligent metal (like Iron Maiden).

At the number 1,000, I feel like I have walked upstairs for a decade and a half. During some flights of stairs, I felt energized and inspired. Other stretches of the upward walk were sluggish and infused with a sense of futility. With quantity, there was always an issue of uneven quality. I know of three instances where I wanted to abandon the literary stair case and never look back.

Now, I am on a landing, looking at another set of stairs to ascend. A glance to my left reveals a level hall way. With that, three questions collide in my skull. Which way do I take? Who or what is my muse? What would Asimov and Carlin do?

Dear Reader

Prison and pre-school parallels

June 1st, 2013

School is out for summer. One ritual that we see every May and June is the painted cars of graduating seniors. With a little time, imagination and washable paint, many motor vehicles are transformed into rolling art work, complete with phrases of the day and classic quips.

A common phrase that can be found on these painted cars is “Thirteen years in Prison!” Naturally, a graduating eighteen year old would never really know what it is really like to spend over a dozen years in a correctional facility.

But are there similarities?

Corrections professionals, have you ever had a good professional chat with someone from early childhood education? If you ever do, you may find that there are many compelling parallels between the two occupations.

Before we delve into the similarities, I issue this disclaimer: The following is not intended to disparage students, educators, corrections professionals and offenders. This does not suggest that corrections equals education. It is simply an interesting look at corresponding elements.

Recently, an early childhood education professional showed me a cleverly disguised thumb drive. It was a teddy bear key chain that could have been easily brought in to a facility, loaded with dangerous information. She showed this to me because she knows of my interest in contraband control. Her find was insightful and made me realize that she understood the central goal in corrections is security.

I told this teacher of my methodical daily sweep of the prison library, leaving out no detail of how I search. I also explained other safety activities, including how I search the shelves, absorb staff observations, and read body language through the day.

I was surprised to learn that she conducts a sweep of the room each day for the sake of safety. “But these are pre-school kids,” I said.

She told me that it does not matter. She has a responsibility to keep the classroom safe. Otherwise, a hazard-in the classroom could derail the lesson plan and cause injury and liability.

First of all, broken toys are hazardous. In the same way that most corrections agencies deem any broken item as contraband, splintered toys need to be removed. The difference lies in the application of the derelict item. In prison, a broken eye glass arm could be a poking weapon. In school, the worry is not about a weapon, but that the item allows children to hurt themselves.

Choking and poking hazards are all around the classroom. It takes time and a keen, experienced eye to sweep the room of dangers. Also, some teachers assess how many toys are in play during play time. Too many on the floor can cause overstimulation or an occasional instance of theft. Too few toys may prompt fights over scarce resources. Just like in corrections, teachers need to know what items are out and how they are used.

Toys can be weapons when hurled as projectiles by a frustrated student. Inside the walls, we assess how common items could hurt us if they became airborne. Both teachers and corrections staff should be aware of common items used as missiles.

The playground, our equivalent to the yard, must be searched each day. Teachers look for holes in the fences and hazards on the ground. Some dangerous items that can be found are broken glass, hypodermic needles, animal droppings, shell casing, and more. Outside the fence, one can find feral animals and sexual predators. The perimeter need to be scanned to keep the playground secure.

Just like in prison, body fluids are a concern. Most educators are trained to treat body fluids as potentially infectious. At the end of the day, gloved teachers and assistants bleach and clean surfaces. During the day, care of the children may require contact between the professional and body fluids. Therefore, the teacher who helps a child blow her nose should don gloves.

Students have been known to bring in items that are inappropriate for the setting. Some may bring cigarettes, lighters, cell phones, minicomputer tablets and even toy handcuffs. On occasion, stories in the national news tell of an elementary school student with a gun in his desk.

And like our jails and prisons, the education professional has to be aware of outside hazards. Strangers may randomly wander in the schools. A vengeful parent or disgruntled employee can wreak havoc. And closer to corrections, an absconder could hole up in a school and possibly take hostages. The education process should be an open, inviting place. However, just with any open window, anything can come in.

It is my hope that children continue to have fun in school and make it safely to the day when they can paint letters on their car. This is made possible by education professionals who lay the base line of safety before the day and the instruction begin.

To be certain, prison does not equal pre-k through 12 education. However, both corrections and education are alike in the need for a secure environment. Without safety, the best education plan in the world cannot be fully used.


Guidelines for classroom safety outside of the institutional setting

May 1st, 2013

I have been a corrections professional for about two decades. My tenure as an Adjunct Instructor is shorter, at thirteen and a half years. So, my experience in the prison has impacted my time teaching criminal justice and corrections concepts to community college students.

It is an understatement to say that the clientele in a maximum security setting are likely to be different than that of a classroom in a community college. Still, danger can come from within and from outside a classroom. I have applied some of the safety techniques from inside the walls to the classroom in the open society.

Note: If your institution of higher learning has provided operating procedures for safety, please review them and discuss expectations and responsibilities with your supervisor. What follows are my opinions and not necessarily those of my employer.

In your classroom, you set the tone and adjust the pace. For a few hours at a time, you foster interaction and create a unique learning experience. In many ways, it is your domain. Still, there are possible dangers over which you have no control. The mention of Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Newtown buttress this point.

The good news is that disaster is not inevitable. Of course, safety for your students, your colleagues, and yourself is as fundamental as a syllabus. Yet, it need not be complicated or overly regimented. You do not have to fall victim to procedural paralysis. Below are ten basic guidelines for classroom safety.

1. Take five – Devote five minutes of your first class to basic safety. Show students the map of the escape routes, the fire extinguishers, and the AED.
2. Enlighten, don’t frighten – You could spend a semester outlining the possible hazards that could spill into a classroom. Be realistic about what could happen, but do not obsess about it.
3. Who is the boss? – If you are not in charge, who is? There is power in the presence of an instructor. Lead students during emergencies. Even if you are panicking inside, do not let it show. Your confidence and leadership are necessary in stressful times. Inform students that though they are not obligated for any action, they can step up if the instructor is incapacitated.
4. Know yourself – For you, is it fight or flight? Will you turn off the lights and hide or confront danger head on? Either could work. You know yourself best. You may have to apply a tactic in the blink of an eye.
5. Be aware of your surroundings – Become familiar with the flow of people and the times that they traverse the hallways. Feel the rhythm of the day.
6. Be a friendly presence – If someone seems lost or somehow out of place, you can offer help. It is most likely that this is not some vengeful or psychotic person looking to spread mayhem. In the unlikely event that the person is ‘casing the joint’, your friendly and assertive presence may dissuade an ugly event.
7. Your phone is your pal – In the event of danger, don’t forget your phone as a way to summon help. This may seem obvious. However, events move quickly and your cell phone may be an overlooked safety tool. If your classroom has a panic button, use it when necessary.
8. Avoid the hair trigger mentality – While it is important to react to events, balance is necessary. Do not whip your students into a paranoid, violent frenzy. It is more likely that a person roaming the halls is waiting for someone than plotting pandemonium. Assess the situation before you start throwing chairs in self-defense.
9. Keep it simple – Do not forget that the explanation for most things is generally a simple thing. Complex conspiracies are rare. It is true that emergencies happen. However, most people dressed in dark colors are not ninjas.
10. Share information – If something seems unusual, share it with colleagues and inform office staff. Be as specific as possible. It may be nothing, but a written record may be useful later.

One of Douglas Adams’ famous phrases in his book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is “Don’t Panic”. Perhaps this is easier said than done. However, these two words have merit. Classroom violence is possible, but is not inevitable. Be aware, but not afraid.

Naturally, not all corrections staff will agree with the list. We must account for different experiences and varied styles. Also, the tip about the telephone may not seem to apply in a specific sense. Still, radios and Personal Protection Devices could serve as substitutes to telephones to summon help while inside the walls. These are tips for classrooms outside of correctional facilities. The tips were developed with corrections fundamentals in mind but superimposed on classrooms outside of prison. Please refer to specific operating procedures and policy directives as provided by your employer.


Shifting communities: Self-assessment in volunteer activities

April 1st, 2013

Ours is a stressful profession. Correctional staff everywhere, quite simply, need to blow off steam. Because of this, many of us have avocations that help us cope with our vocation. Activities outside work help direct energies and recharge drained batteries. Volunteering in non-corrections organizations is a way to distress.

Asking Pete Townshend’s musical question, my wife fixed her grey-green eyes on mine. She queried, “Who are you?” She seemed to know the answer. I detected a knowing amusement in her expression. Still, there was a fleeting flavor of genuine curiosity.

You see, her question was in response to my growing involvement in a local trail group and as a new member of friends of the public library. The communities in which I had previously volunteered had been vocation-based corrections and criminal justice groups. The shift was to two groups which are very local and have specific foci. In effect, she was asking, “Why the change, Joe?”

I attribute the shift to a number of factors. Chief among those was the need to rejuvenate my enthusiasm.

Shifting from the autobiographical mode, I suggest a few questions for the curious, self-assessors. By pondering the following, you might discover interesting patterns about yourself.

1. For which groups do you volunteer?
2. Is there a group that you wish to join but have not due to time and energy constraints?
3. Regarding your extra-curricular activities, is there a passion or is it routine?
4. How do the group’s achievements make you feel?
5. Are you in it for the long haul or to promote a specific project?
6. Do you feel that group dynamics promote success or impede it?
7. Is the group about fun or all business?
8. In general, are you a lone wolf or a gregarious group member?
9. Can you acknowledge strengths in others and cultivate them?
10. Do you prefer to contribute by leading, following or filling in as needed?

I have not completely abandoned my corrections group. My vocational-avocations are still important to me. I gave up a few of the groups for which I held less enthusiasm. Quite simply, I needed to experience a more tangible, home-based set of activities. Thus, the change. Time will tell if I experience additional community shifts.

In the end, it is not quite like in science fiction where some sentient, artificial being suddenly becomes self aware and asks “Who am I?” We are not newly born, but live on a timeline, subject to our own history. All of us change, evolve, regress, and seek new directions. For the sake of self-examination, it behooves us to review our group activities and to ponder our ever-shifting communities. Who are you?

Self Scrutiny

Contraband searches – diversify or specialize?

March 2nd, 2013

Have you ever lost a favorite pen at home? If the pen means enough to you, the house may be turned inside-out in order to retrieve the coveted writing implement. However, items that you stumble upon on the way to finding the pen count as bonus discoveries.

If during the search you find change in the cushions, you would not put the coins back because you were not technically searching for them. Would you disregard a long-missing remote control that you found when searching for a pen just because it was not the pen you sought?

Recently, I was asked why I sometimes focus on specific items in a search. In other words, why not just look for contraband in general rather than specific items? This is a valid point. Here are some additional thoughts:

Specific searches do not necessarily equal limited searches – Looking for something in particular does not mean that you are locked into that search. Two or three (or many) specific items can be on your search list at once.

A target item is a helpful focus – Imagine that metal lids from large food cans are missing. The image of what these items look like and what they could be fashioned into fuel the search. Certainly, time is of the essence in this case. Sometimes, circumstances warrant a specific search.

Don’t overlook secondary items – One can still search for specific contraband while removing other items from circulation. If, for example, intelligence suggests that there is a cell phone in a certain area, you look for that in particular. However, if you find stingers, stickers, betting slips, spud juice and a spy pen during the search, you do not allow them to remain in the inmate economy. You write the contraband removal slip, issue the misconduct, inform other staff /your chain of command, and continue the search. A specific search does not negate serendipitous finds.

Contraband runs the gamut – All staff need to occasionally think about the many different items one can encounter during a search. It is so much more than just shanks and betting slips. The world of inmate ingenuity produces so many variations on a theme. Thinking about how specific items relate to one another opens the mind to the staggering diversity in contraband.

Specific items sometimes mean specific hiding places – The specific search allows one to think in terms of hiding strategies. If, for example, you are acting on a tip about a spud juice operation, you can make certain assumptions about how it will be hidden. Containers will be suspect. Sealed trash bags and latex gloves are not innocent in this search. Larger operations are likely (though not always) to be concealed in hot areas so the hooch can ‘cook”.

Embrace diversity – We are all different. Some will look in general, while others will conduct specific searches. Even if we attend the same training, our experiences and how we are wired will impact on how we think about a search. Especially if searches are coordinated, complementary search styles are more likely to uncover more contraband than two homogenized approaches. Different eyes and varied search philosophies increase chances of success in removing bootleg.

Is there one right way? Should we disregard the specific search and just conduct clean sweeps? The answer to that will depend on factors such as your search style, staff dynamics, and the circumstances. In the same way that search styles vary on the intuitional-methodical range, foci differ. General or specific do not matter so much as long as searches continue. Whether a 12 inch shank is discovered because of a specific search or by a sweep is of less consequence as it being taken out of circulation. Theories and practices vary. But we can all agree that contraband control reduces danger in our facilities.

Contraband Control

Assessing the contraband threat – From alarm to oblivion

February 1st, 2013

Should a betting slip be disregarded as an insignificant scrap of paper? Or is the same bit of contraband a small but nefarious indication of an inter-facility gambling, prostitution, and drug empire? Circumstance will tell which it is. Often, it lies somewhere between those two extremes.

Lessons of moderation are everywhere. They can be found in forms such as The Flight of Icarus to Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Though both stories ended tragically for the chief figure, the message is that the middle ground may be the best.

How do you generally assess a contraband find? Is the discovery of a cell phone no big deal, as it is the nature of the beast? Or is the cell phone immediately part of a huge enterprise. If the extremes in the continuum below represent cold apathy and burning concern, where would you plot your general opinion about the threat of the following items?

• Spy watch
• Extra milk in cell
• Apple
• Two dozen bags of coffee
• Staff home phone numbers
• An anonymous nude photo
• Bylaws for a security threat group
• Chewing gum
• Duct tape

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Oblivion Realism Alarm

(Contraband Threat Continuum)

Let’s look a little closer at the three points on the contraband threat continuum:

Contraband Oblivion – This extreme will disregard any past finds that have proven dangerous. Forgetfulness is the operative word. In a cavalier manner, those mired in contraband oblivion see no real threat in an weapon that has been uncovered. Again, contraband is the nature of the beast and, to those who are firmly perched on this extreme, is no big deal.

The major pitfall of this end of the continuum lies in complacency. Diminished fear translates to diminished respect for possibilities. People get hurt when they underestimate.

Contraband alarm – The alarmist will find threat in everything – real and imagined.

The pitfalls in this mindset are:
• Crippling fear – freezing the professional to inaction;
• Running too far with the ball – a tunnel vision that places a laser-like focus on a possibility and blurring the day-to-day operations;
• Disenfranchisement – colleagues begin to view the alarmist as the boy who cried wolf and give the person distance.

Realism – Often, the middle road is most prudent. The philosophical middle ground borrows elements of two opposing extremes and tempers it with patience, evidence gathering and common sense. In the state of realism, contraband incidents will not automatically be relegated to a code red status. Nor will contraband finds be dismissed in a cavalier manner.

Extremes from both sides of the continuum are best filtered through the following bits of realism:
• Investigate before you proclaim something as a huge threat. Use conditional words before you make conclusions (could, may, might).
• Calmly talk to others in the area about the history of the contrabandist.
• Read files to understand the misconduct reports the offender has incurred.
• Rethink minor contraband, nuisance contraband, and diversions.
• Open your mind to the possibilities of what a find could be. It could be nothing or it could be the tip of the iceberg of something huge and illicit.

In the end, a single contraband find could mean nothing at all or it could represent the biggest find of the century. Odds have it, however, that it is likely to lie somewhere in between those extremes. It is up to each corrections professional to determine where he or she lies on the contraband threat continuum and to weigh the evidence and the circumstances.

Contraband Control