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Archive for August, 2011

The never ending search for and study of contraband

August 31st, 2011

Some corrections professionals make a career out of studying the delivery, trade and elimination of contraband. Over the course of one’s vocational life, one can see many different foci, methods, and delivery systems of illegal goods within a correctional facility.

Some would wonder if studying contraband control is an exercise in futility. They may reason that contraband is like the weather. It happens and there is nothing we can do about it. Certainly, one can prepare for a hurricane. However, one cannot do a thing about the storm’s arrival. The inevitability of contraband in a corrections setting – just like that of the storm occurring in nature – cannot be averted.

I do not believe that entirely. I concede that where there’s a will there’s a way. Contraband trade is as old as confinement. That does not mean that we give up on trying to slow the flow just because finds are few and far between at times. I believe that a good professional stance is to mitigate contraband flow in order to secure safety. Realistically, we will never halt it – but we can enhance safety by putting a dent in trade. That is not pessimism. It is realism.

Still, some questions arise, though they are really the same questions asked in different ways. When do you stop studying contraband and it impact? How long are you supposed to wait until you stop gathering data for bootleg delivery and trade? What is the end date for devising manners in which to control illicit trade?

The correct answer is you can never finish learning about contraband trade and how to mitigate it. Granted, given a steep learning curve and diligent study in a matter of a couple years, one can learn almost all one will learn in a career about contraband control. But the field is too big. One simply can never earn learn it all.

Here are some reasons to continue searching for and learning about contraband:

Think about innovations. Consider the now-ubiquitous cell phone. Some people currently working began employment in a time where cell phones were large and (by all intents and purposes) useless. Now they are micro computers with filming and voice recoding abilities. And those are just the auxiliary functions.

Nothing stands still. Innovations keep us on our toes. As expensive novelties turn into inexpensive necessities on the street, they tend to find their way inside our lock ups. Inside, they are assigned a variety of utilities. Often, these utilities are not intended by the designers and manufactures.

Though I don’t know the source, I heard once that they considered closing the US Patent Office in the 1920s. Thankfully that was not done. Of course if it were closed, things like jet engines, computers, and nuclear missiles, would have had to been patented elsewhere. Innovation does not simply turn off for a few years. Therefore, contraband hounds will always have something new to investigate.

The search is worth it. This is true because uncovering one dangerous thing may save many lives. For example, let’s say that you find the back of a metal bookshelf that is being bent to be used as a shank. It may be that you had not thought of that prior and that this is a new trick to you. Also, the find was not in a comfortable place. In other words, those who try to dislodge the metal, have to crouch in order to reach it. You have learned that contraband may be hidden in places where it is difficult or uncomfortable for staff to search. And while you learn this new axiom, you have removed a dangerous item from circulation.

Serendipity happens. Sometimes, we simply stumble upon a discovery. We observe something new such as a swelled interest in a section of the kitchen. Prior, there may be only one person per shift in that section. Now it is knotted with a veritable throng of active offenders. As you watch, you realize they’re trying to block someone who is trying to dislodge metal from one of the out-of-the-way cabinets. From all this we find that as we continue to watch, we continue to discover. Therefore, study contraband will continue.

We are already watching, anyway. We keep watching as a matter of our job duties. To alleviate boredom, we think of where things may be hidden, often wandering into the realm of the absurd. Since we are already watching, we may as well engage in a little creative find and seek.

The search will never really end. The passing of time and the many locations we have to search tell us that there are so many places to hide things. And once you have looked over a location, offenders have had time and opportunity to place items in recently searched areas. In all of this, there may not be many finds. However, there is the potential to uncover something.

What if you don’t look and you miss something big? Many contraband searches reveal nothing. And when you find something, the discovery may be a simple love note, an old betting slip, or even some poorly written graffiti. But you can’t risk not looking. That is because you may find a prison made alcohol, a shank, or some indication of escape plans. In other words, because the potential to find some things there, we continue to look.

These are just a few reasons why professionals continue to search. They do this even if their knowledge is already vast. So if you asked me when I’ll stop looking for contraband and ways to halt the danger, I will say this: “I will stop tomorrow.”Of course, by the time it is tomorrow it’s actually today. Tomorrow never comes. The search goes on. The learning continues.

joebouchard Contraband Control

In praise of instant communications

August 25th, 2011

Some news really takes us by surprise. An example of this is the August 23, 2011 earthquake with the epicenter in Virginia.

Being approximately 800 linear miles from the epicenter, I was not directly impacted. However, there were reports of tremors from as far away as Detroit. In this earthquake post mortem, Still, distance did not mitigate the fact that I had a personal stake in the tectonic activity. I had two good friends (and trusted colleagues) from Virginia who may have been in harm’s way.

Years ago, to find out about the safety of someone far away, it would be a touch and go situation with a telephone. Upon hearing about the earthquake, I sent out a quick email. With today’s technology, I was able to get some answers in a near instant. One of my friends e-mailed back within a minute and announced his safety.

One of our chief tools in maintaining order in the prison is communications. I believe that communications is a weapon in the war against disorder. Without communications, our efforts are blunted. Here are some incarnations of exchanging information.

Audio – There are two basic instant communication methods are aided by electronics. They are personal protection devices (PPDs) and radios.

Consider the personal protection device. Some may call it a panic button, others may use a more colloquial term. Nevertheless, its utility is valuable. If you’re in distress, you pull the pin and a signal sounds in central control. Instantly, the equipment reveals the location of the duress.

The other method of instant audio communications is an old mainstay - the radio. A mentor of mine once used the radio when a prisoner was becoming agitated in the school building. He depressed of the microphone button and said that a specifically named prisoner is being sent back to his unit now. That was an instant message to all staff that had radios. They were to be on the lookout for a specific prisoner leaving the school building. And the prisoner got some instant communications, too. The offender realized that he had little choice but to leave immediately.

In a nonemergency setting, the utility of the radio played forth again this week for me. One lieutenant used his radio to announce that all computers had to be shut down for line maintenance. It was true that this was not a life-threatening event. It was just a matter of proper maintenance of equipment. Some staff who had radios after hearing the transmission utilized another communication skill – the verbal. They went around their respective areas to see if others without radios had received the message.

Video – Communication does not always have to be in sound or words. For example, live-action cameras convey what is going on in real time. I do recall my first week inside the prison when one offender tried to knock me off my square by stating he had seen cameras like the ones in the prison at toy stores. Of course, that was a subtle intimidation tactic that was amply transparent, even to neophytes. The cameras certainly were not from a toy store. As the years rolled on, those cameras have demonstrated quite a utility. The presence of a camera suggests to all that lines of safety are strengthened by communications.

Electronic word – Just as an e-mail can be utilized to check up on friends in Virginia, so too can emails be used to disseminate useful information department-wide. Some examples of messages that are instant are a lockdown at a local school, a threat in the outside world from a security threat group, and imminent thunderstorm or tornado.

Even with all the advances in modern electric miracles, it comes down to staff using them properly. It is very important to remember that there are several different vines that you need to contact. Also, there is a danger in sending incorrect information.

It is our ability to communicate with each other quickly that allows us to react to dangerous situations. Who knows what the future holds? If you look at the advances in the last 20 years, the sky appears to be the limit. As obvious as it sounds, without quick communications efficient operations and news of a friend safety are less likely.

joebouchard Security

Training, information and gas stations

August 18th, 2011

Corrections training is like a gas station in some ways. That may seem like a strange statement. But the parallels are interesting.

Once upon a time, the only choice one had when purchasing gasoline was a full-service station. Decades ago, neither self-service stations nor completely automated existed.

However, things change. Now it is a challenge to find one of the formerly plentiful full service gas stops. It must same way, corrections training is not what it once was. We hear stories of the past from veterans who declare spartan instruction that they received. Some said that you were simply handed a set of keys and you learned that she went out.

I am sure that my experiences are much like anyone who started corrections employment in the last century. I recall 40 hours per year in the classroom with occasional additional training as mandated. Years rolled on and computers became omnipresent in the work world. Naturally we in corrections were impacted. We spend less time in the classroom and more time before computer monitor. (Please see Eating the E-training Elephant at www.corrections.com/joe_bouchard July 1, 2010.)

On the face of it, classroom training is like a full-service element of the gas station. Computer-based training, of course, seems parallel to a self-service gas station. And it remains that one way or another we all need to obtain gasoline and training.

Still, the analogy is not perfect. For example, when you are perplexed by some part of computer-based training, you have help at hand. There is almost always a willing institutional training officer just an e-mail away – ready to facilitate your understanding of the material. This is not true of the modern gas station. The mechanics quite simply did not move to self-service stations.

Many students in our profession move beyond the traditional and computer-based training to sate their curiosity. Those who wish to expand their vocational knowledge base can find other resources. Television is loaded with corrections oriented documentaries. Books on the topic are easier to find with the Internet. Also, corrections professionals who write have expanded beyond print and into the online sources. There are ample articles of all types at just a click away.

With so much opportunity for new knowledge, there is a greater risk of misinformation. After all, a beguiling website does not mean that the content is flawless or even true.

Of course, staff can bring any questions to their institutional training officer. Who better to turn to for clarification on industry topics? While trainers have specialties, the best trainers can adeptly traverse the webs of knowledge because of their broad information base. And if a trainer is stumped, this is rectified by activating the training network.

I believe that the proliferation of Internet information on corrections is positive for the profession. More information, whether it’s accurate or ridiculous, stimulates discussion and makes for smarter student. This in turn challenges the trainer, keeping them on their professional toes. All of this enlivens our profession.

Unlike the full-service gas station, corrections training is not dead. It is merely changed. In the end, is all about delivering information to professionals in order for them to perform their job well and in a safe manner.

joebouchard Training

New Bouchard Book Announcement: The L.O.T.I.S. concept of corrections

August 17th, 2011

Dear Reader,

Foundations and www.corrections.com are very important to me. I have published more here than at any other place – print or electronic. For me, it is like home.

I would like to announce a milestone. This is my 200th posting for Foundations.

With this milestone, I want to tell you about an upcoming Bouchard book in corrections. The L.O.T.I.S. concept of correction will be my 6th book and available only at corrections.com. My target to have it available for readers is November of 2011. Here is an introduction.

Nothing exists in a bubble. And corrections is no exception to this.
In consideration of our continued good work and operational integrity, I have designed the L.O.T.I.S. concept. L.O.T.I.S. allows us to assess the following:

Limitations
Offender Economies
Teamwork
Instruction
Self-knowledge

Limitations consist of all external forces imposed upon our operations. Local politics, state and federal mandates, expectations of accrediting entities and economic factors all are examples of these. “Limitations” is the platform that the four following elements are placed.

Offender economies. It is no secret that prohibited exchange of goods and services in our jails and prisons is a vexing and persistent problem. Staff who understand how and why offenders trade contraband have a better chance of mitigating danger inside. The ultimate goal in contraband control is to enhance safety for all.

Teamwork is an important foundation element in corrections. Staff cooperation benefits all stakeholders and is the glue that holds together operations. Joint efforts enhance individual talents and help achieve a facility and agency’s goals.

Instruction that we receive through official channels forms our actions in our first days on the job. Continued training keeps us focused and professional. Good instruction is like regular oil changes that keep a vehicle operating dependably.

Self-knowledge is crucial for continued professionalism. All of us need to take a look at ourselves and see how we fit into operations. Without self-knowledge, we are like the hiker in a wilderness without a GPS. We simply meander with no purpose of direction and no perspective.

L.O.T.I.S. is a collection of thematically linked articles that have appeared on the Foundation website through www.corrections.com. These concepts are fundamental buttresses for our challenging vocation. L.O.T.I.S. is written for all corrections professionals. Keep on corrections.com for details.

Thanks for your continued interest in Foundations.

joebouchard Dear Reader

Why engage in contraband control?

August 10th, 2011

Support staff in any institution perform many useful functions. For example, there are healthcare staff, mechanics, storekeepers, and teachers just to name a few. Without them, offenders would be harder to control and operations would be seriously compromised. Yet, the various specialties of auxiliary staff on the face of it seem to be without a security function. And the reasons for that varies, ranging from institutional or agency culture to the emphasis that individual professionals places on security.

This does not have to be. Non-custody, support staff can offer a lot of help in the constant battle for safety. And one of the fundamental eroding elements of the security base is the existence of contraband and the trade activity that goes with it.

I believe that a complete corrections professional will perform their specialty well and engage in contraband control. And when I say corrections professional, I mean not only the officers but also administration, programs personnel, and other support staff.

Here are five reasons programs staff should help in the search for contraband.

1. It is everyone’s duty – Look at any mission statement. An agency’s mission statement is the written expectation of service. Security is built into all of them. Though the words may differ, it all comes down to keeping the public, staff, and offenders safe. Anyone who works in corrections, no matter the classification of their job, is duty bound to follow the mission statement;
2. A different perspective – Almost everyone appreciates an extra set of eyes. Support staff may see something that is overlooked by other staff. For example, some offenders are more likely to exchange goods or services in front of support staff and in the absence of custody staff. Because of this, observations of non-custody staff are valuable for the institution. Hitherto ignored associations between offenders can come to light. What had previously been unseen could represent the gateway to vast trading enterprise and to more sinister bootleg;
3. Staff harmony – Support staff who share the search generally are held in higher regard by custody staff. Non-custody contraband control hounds are willing to step out of their comfort zone and specialty and into the very important matter of security. The search for contraband is a fundamental building block of security. And when support staff engage in this, many custody staff feel that there are others to help carry the burden. This sort of cooperation strengthens ties, creates empathy, builds credibility, and mitigates the persistent problem of staff division;
4. Impression – Over time, offenders will notice the security consciousness exhibited by support staff. This will make formerly vulnerable staff into a less likely target of manipulation and intimidation. A well-respected body of staff helps build a feeling of safety in the facility;
5. Pragmatism – The life that you save could be your own. It is dangerous in there. It makes sense to eliminate the dangerous elements. And even if preserving your own existence is not paramount in your mind, there’s the well-being of your colleagues to consider. The practical thinking involved in a contraband search is priceless. It is like looking for a mouse trap that has been set before actually reaching for it.

It is no surprise that any correctional facility is incomplete without meaningful programs and effective prisoner services. In much the same way the security team is diminished without the vigilance and communication of support staff. Support staff can be a valuable asset to the search team. Their efforts, combined with everyone else, make corrections safer for staff, offenders, and the public.

joebouchard Contraband Control

The merits of stability and variety

August 3rd, 2011

One bit of wisdom that seasoned veterans pass on to neophytes involves predictability. Experience tells us to change up our routines from time to time. As we are continuously monitored and observed by offenders, it pays to camouflage our patterns when we can. When we use the same route at the same time each day and commit identical movements, we can become targets.

Walking in a different direction than is normal while you perform rounds may afford you another view of the same location. An offender who is not expecting you to break your pattern may inadvertently reveal a weapon or other contraband. All of this leads, of course, to a safer facility for all.

Variety, on the other hand, is often a detriment when we speak of our work personas. This is not to say that a conversation between colleagues has to remain in the tight parameters of weather, sports, and what is for chow. What I mean is that a stable personality helps foster safety.

Take the test. Which of these two scenarios do you prefer?

1. Your colleague greets you at the time clock one day. He is literally bouncing, full of energy, and extremely happy. In fact, you are a bit puzzled, as there is no apparent reason for his elation. Two days later, the same person is withdrawn. His posture suggests defeat. The next week, he exudes angry, sarcastic energy. The next day, he is jubilant. You can never predict this person’s mood.
or
2. Your colleague greets you at the time clock and makes a remark about the weather. He then issues an observation about some prisoner activities and then bids you a good day. This persona is one that he has had for as long as you can remember. This person is always pretty much the same every day.

The question posed prior to the scenario was, “Which of these two scenarios do you prefer?” I believe that most people would rather face scenario number two than number one. There is a comfort in stability. This, I think, is also true for offenders. Almost all of us want to know what sort of person we will deal with on a continuing basis.

Some would point out that routine in a facility can be mind-numbing. Others would ask, would it not be better if there were a smattering of volatile characters? I believe that volatility militates against security. Those with a mercurial temperament can be off-putting. And when enterprising offenders see staff keeping distance from a changeable colleague, the recipe for a set-up is evident.

Here are some thoughts about stability:

• Some people are naturally moody. As long as no one is hurt and operations are not impacted, we should accept people as they are;
• Volatile colleagues can be entertaining in an otherwise routine vocation. However, disruptions and staff division spawned by this personality type open the door for danger;
• A less-than-perfect personality that is constant is at least predictable. For example, some people are naturally sullen or grumpy. When we know that someone is likely to be crabby by nature, we are not surprised;
• Just because a person is mercurial does not necessarily mean that there is an issue of mental health. However, we should be sensitive to our colleagues’ needs and offer help;
• If you openly distance yourself from a colleague with a varying personality, you are ringing the dinner bell for the ravenous beast called staff division;
• No matter the behavior, we must remember that a colleague is a colleague. If sudden, strange behavior manifests, one could tactfully ask if something is wrong;
• Many agencies offer employee services to cope with problems in life;
• Aim for stability, but be true to yourself if doing so does not harm the facility or anyone inside.
Maintaining a stable personality, just like consciously varying routine, is conditional. Each corrections professional must make a choice on how to act and react every day. In the end, the safety of others may depend on what you choose.

joebouchard Self Scrutiny, Staff relations