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Archive for the ‘Contraband Control’ Category

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

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

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

X———————————I ———————————– X
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

Columns: The Contraband Control Support System

January 1st, 2013

Contraband control and architecture are two seemingly unrelated concepts. The former entails the removal of illicit items from a highly supervised space. The latter is the art and science of building. On the face of it, they are unrelated. Yet, they are both alike in that they have a scientific, methodical base. Both, when done correctly, involve planning.

But, one can appreciate the beauty of a structure and forget about the plan. In other words, before beautiful bridge in creation can be crafted, a useful plan must be in place. For example, a visually striking bridge is not a complete success in the architectural sense if vehicles or people cannot efficiently cross it.

Is your contraband control process beautiful on paper? Does the practical output measure up to the beauty of the plan? Contraband control is like architecture in that all of the artistry in the world cannot overcome a deficiency in practical application. Let’s apply an iconic architectural element to contraband control.

Column – In the vocabulary of architecture, this is a vertical support. In contraband control, columns are the supporting staff that search or aid in the search for bootleg. Contraband control columns support a variety of weights in order that the figurative roof of order does not fall in. Here are some of the roles of the columns:

1. Data compilation – Some are data collection machines such as hearings officers who have documents from misconduct reports. Staff who compile their misconduct reports also serve in this role.
2. Data dissemination – Another column is the disseminator of information. This is a hub in the information network, spreading news of smugglers and smuggling methods. A disseminator of information does not necessarily have to be in the same facility. A good example of this is the property officer from another location who keeps you abreast of new and unusual bootleg finds through emails.
3. Education – Training offices offer another sort of support. With contraband-based exercises in the classroom, they engage the professional in the search, bringing practice and theory together.
4. Media education – Writers (or, if you will, columnists) contribute to the contraband control literature. Offering a perspective that may not be found in a particular facility, they provide food for thought for professionals in the quest to mitigate the contraband –driven peril in correctional facilities.
5. Search – Line staff who conduct routine searches are another column. They stem the tide on the battle field by sweeping areas clean. It is a labor-intensive job, but remains as a very necessary column.
6. Administrative facilitators -Supporters in administration remove barriers for the search. They make searches a priority and acknowledge finds. Administrative supporters of contraband control provide tools and time necessary for search and allow staff to try new methods and techniques. To this group, contraband control is not just a common practice; it is a dynamic tool for safety.

Just as marble columns continue to provide age-old support on classic structures, contraband control columns keep the roof from falling in. Without these columns, any facility is a more perilous place. Never mind how these columns appear on the face of it. Consider their practical and crucial functions.

Contraband Control

Six contraband control concepts

December 15th, 2012

Contraband control is a topic that is fundamental to the safety of all in any correctional facility. Below are six concepts that may help place contraband as a whole in perspective. Above all, knowledge of contraband control in general will keep staff, offenders, and the public safer through vigilance.

Contraband is everywhere. From Alaska to Florida, bootleg will be found. Neither climate, nor region, nor jurisdiction will keep illegal items out of prisons and jails.

Contraband items are similar in every type of facility. You will find like items in the tiniest lock up to the largest maximum security facility. If you gather corrections professionals from all varieties of institutions, the stories will be fundamentally the same. Certainly, there may be more cell phones or tobacco in certain types of institutions than others, but both of these forbidden items exist in all types of corrections settings.

Contraband is dangerous, no matter the type. Obviously, a facility-made knife is sinister. There is no question of its utility. But, corrections professionals need to remember the little things, as well. A tiny stick of chewing gum can disable a lock. A staple can frustrate the efforts of someone accessing a door. The common betting slip, a seemingly innocuous piece of paper, is really a representation of the tip of the iceberg for violent transactions. All contraband had potential for danger because of what some offenders will do for to obtain and retain it.

There are many ways to thwart the ill effects of contraband. Battling contraband begins with the notion that the search is so much more than just stumbling upon a bit of bootleg and taking it out of circulation. The search can be a multi-step proposition augmented by technology and careful documentation. At its highest level, crime mapping methods can be utilized.

Cooperation and coordination tie it all together. The positive potential of our pooled knowledge and efforts is astounding. Searching one area multiple times does not address less frequently searched areas. Staff communication is the oil for the search machine. Methodical searches in all areas over the different times of the day will always reveal more dangerous items than serendipity.

Experience rules the mitigation of contraband. A crucial ingredient in any recipe for contraband control is the experience of staff. Old tricks recycle and old hiding places come and go out of vogue. It is true that new items and different twists may be added to the long list from year to year. However, it is the veteran contraband hound that recalls the concepts and removes the dangerous items.

May your facility be safer through contraband control.

Contraband Control

Contraband searches: Proactive and reactive

December 1st, 2012

Q. Will you find anything significant when you trace the origin of a particular contraband item?

A. Sometimes.

A contraband find is useful because we remove an illicit item from circulation. The bottom line says that the facility is just a bit safer because the item is out of the loop. Yet, we can look deeper for clues of other enterprises. It is often profitable to trace the origin of the contraband in order to see if it is linked to a larger enterprise.

Sometimes, we begin a search as a reaction to conditions. At other times, we plan to search a certain area of our own initiative. There are two categories of search. They are the Reactive Search and the Proactive Search. Both are useful in their own turn. Here are examples of each:

• Stumble upon – This is where one where one literally looks down and sees a dropped or discarded item. For example, you spot a cigarette butt on the walk in a facility that has been smoke free for years. The item can be in the open as intentionally abandoned property.
• Serendipity – For no reason at all, you decide to look in a trash can and find gambling slip. This is finding something en route to looking for something else. It can be likened to finding a handful fo change in your couch while seeking your television remote.
• Reaction to missing items – Large can lids are missing from the kitchen, for example, and the facility staff is assigned to find them.
• Informant information – A reliable source tells you of a spud juice enterprise.
• Anonymous information – An unsigned missive warns that there are shanks in a certain general population unit.
• Suspicious suspects – Two known security threat group prisoners are observed passing law books to one another in a furtive manner. Past behavior indicates that there may be instructions for a disturbance in the book.
• Patterns – Succession of bathroom breaks for many people in the same area prompts vigilance. The pattern raises a red flag.


• Routine search – It is the day to thoroughly search the commons area.
• Routine book search – It is law book delivery day and you proactively search all incoming and outgoing books in order to find evidence of communication and commerce.
• Commissary – It is one day after store day repayment of favors and bets will likely occur.
• Future traffic – The daily schedule indicates that there will soon be a successive flow of prisoner traffic and you sweep the area clean of any planned drop-and-pass items.
• Just after major events – The Super Bowl was on last night and you are prepared to remove unofficial tender from circulation

Knowing why we conduct the search as we conduct it may point to the origin of the trade. A simple delivery of a few Jolly Ranchers may be the tip of the iceberg in a gambling empire. Jolly Rancher wrappers may just be a case of littering.

Of course, just like the search itself, determining whether we conduct a proactive or reactive search may not mean a thing. Circumstances will dictate this. We may end up with no new information at all. Still, the important thing is that we continue the search and employ both reactive and proactive strategies as necessary.

Contraband Control

It’s nothing personal: Seven reasons we commit to contraband control

November 17th, 2012

It is interesting what you may stumble upon as you search for other things. For example, I discovered news of a French Canadian alcohol smuggler from the 1890’s called “Notorious” Bouchard. For me, it inspired visions of ancient trunks with bootleg concealed within. I learned this from the publication The Quebec Saturday Budget – Jul 30, 1892.

As a Bouchard, I took notice of the last name. Also, I am very interested in contraband – though I prefer to eliminate it, unlike the contrabandist “Notorious” Bouchard from years past.

If you have read this far, I ask that you excuse the personal musings. The point is: part of your mission or professional quest might be tied to personal reasons. Allow me to point out that my quest for contraband control is not predicated on personal reasons. My resolve to enhance safety has nothing to do with the illegal actions of someone who shares my last name from 120 years ago. True, the story of “Notorious” Bouchard is interesting and ironic to me. However, it is not crucial for my quest. In other words, I search for contraband for a variety of reasons that are NOT personal.

As you review the list below, think of what motivates you to sweep illicit operations from your institution. Professionals motivations typically fall under the large category of safety. Some of my motivations are:

1. Leveling the playing field – Let’s face it. Offenders have ample time to craft new ideas for concealment of valuable but illegal items. A comprehensive contraband control program is the antidote to this. We pool our professional resources to thwart the pervasive trade that chips away our secure foundation of security.
2. Investment in the now – It is crucial to remove dangerous items immediately. Taking contraband out of the system is important for immediate safety.
3. Investment in the future – Think about how a small enterprise can grow. It is like pulling small weeds now rather than letting them flourish and overtake the legitimate plants in your garden.
4. Keeping colleagues safe – We have each others’ back. Safe colleagues mean capable colleagues. Colleagues who recognize threats to security and deal with them increase safety in an upward spiral of success.
5. Keeping offenders safe – Part of most agencies’ mission statements include the safety of prisoners. We strive to maintain order by removing contraband – the building blocks of illicit power.
6. Keeping the public safe – The unseen, unthought-of of shield of corrections keeps dangerous elements off the streets. Although the public may not think of our profession often, we are at work all of the time to fulfill our mission.
7. Drawing the line – When we issue misconduct reports on contraband issues, prisoners see where we draw the line. What we remove from the system indicates our collective intolerance for specific items.

It was reported that when “Notorious” Bouchard was captured in 1892 in Quebec, he inebriated and abusive. His actions may have been inspired by monetary gain, fame, and perhaps the influence of a distilled spirit. The only thing that we have in common is a surname.

Horse thief, bank robber, and moonshiner. If you shake the family tree hard enough, a less-than-reputable figure is likely to tumble out. Whether or not I am related to him, my mission remains the same. My actions to mitigate and eliminate contraband in my corner of corrections ultimately fall under the important category of security for staff, offenders, and the public.

Contraband Control, Dear Reader

Searching outside the comfortable eye level zone

November 11th, 2012

Lessons in nature are often humbling. For example, a friend of mine who takes early morning walks began to worry about cougar sightings in our area. As time went on, she relaxed, having seen no large cat. I asked her if she looked up in the trees, as cougars are expert climbers. She visibly shuddered at this possibility. It shattered her false sense of security. But, that is a consequence of looking outside the comfortable standing eye level range.

Consider the ceiling and the floor. Have you ever wondered if there is something hidden above ceiling tiles? Does an inconspicuous molding or ceiling tile hide bootleg? Do you ever wonder if there is a place of concealment on or just under the floor?

These are questions that we should ask ourselves as we search for contraband. If we ponder those points, we can begin to conceive different levels of concealment. We need to think of the nefarious ends that a full-time contrabandist may employ by hiding things outside of the eye level range.

Often, movement within the facility allows us only a quick visual scan of a room. This cursory glance can range from table top to just above eye level – perhaps three feet to six feet. Even when we have the luxury of time to conduct a thorough search, we should consider the range outside of eye level. Here are a dozen thoughts about searching outside eye level:

1. Imagine the concealment strategy of a seasoned contrabandist. Thinking “outside the box” is like thinking outside of the range of standing eye level. Enterprising smugglers know that not everyone consistently searches outside of the comfortable range of standing.
2. Crouching can be uncomfortable. It is easier to stand. Contraband hidden below standing eye level is more likely to remain concealed.
3. Check out base boards, floor molding and other ornamental aspects of a room. Is anything loose that should not be loose? Can small items be hidden there?
4. Are any rug tiles pulled up at a corner? Is there something small and potentially dangerous hidden under your feet?
5. What is happening below chairs, tables, shelves and counters? Is anything affixed with an adhesive bandage, naturally made glues, or tape?
6. Most of us do not naturally look up at the ceiling. Hiding something above the standing eye range is another way to hide in plain sight.
7. Heat rises. Prison made alcohol can better ferment above ceiling tiles and on top of shelves and cabinets than at eye level.
8. Looking up at a high shelf that is a foot deep is not the same as getting eye level to that top shelf. A pen shank can blend in easily if it is where the high shelf is fastened to the wall. Also, the weapon is more difficult to detect when it is the same color as the caulk.
9. There is some comfort in the different levels of expertise in contrabandists. Many are sloppy opportunists that do not necessarily think outside the standing eye level. This is a false comfort. A small but significant percentage of creative offenders recognize our standard search patterns and use them against us. It is in that group where the greater danger often lies.
10. Look before you touch. Use of a mirror assists in hard to see places. If you cannot see an area and need to sweep it in order to search, do not use your hand, even if it is gloved. Rather, use a small piece of cardboard.
11. The covert search is usually preferable when you search difficult to reach places. With no prisoners present, you are secure to concentrate. While standing on a chair or while crouching, you are more vulnerable than when you stand firmly on the floor.
12. It may seem obvious to look up and to look down. However, it is not normally that simple. Test yourself for a week. How much you look beyond standing eye level when you are at work and when you are in the public?

Unseen hazards can be just out of sight. Think of a cougar in a tree. Looking up and looking down is more than an exercise in rote movement. It can be a way to preserve the balance of safety in your institution by searching outside the normal visual field.

Contraband Control