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Archive for November, 2012

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

The manipulative power of candy

November 6th, 2012

Manipulation is all around us. Corrections staff know this well. Students who aspire to work in the corrections profession should know this vocational fact. That is why I wrote this exercise.

And it is not just inside the walls of a correctional facility. Print and electronic media are chock full of examples of companies and individual trying to get you to buy a product or endorse a candidate. Some deem it persuasion. Others may call it marketing. Whatever its name, it is all about convincing others to do your will.

Often, an instructor’s design is to turn the floor over to the students and allow them to buttress points in the lesson with their own personal experience. Yet, classroom participation is always a challenge. Even when one had a room full of extroverts, there may be slow days and pervasive quiet. Every facilitator will eventually come to the conclusion that sometimes we need to bribe in order to get results.

Let’s not elevate this to the point crossing into the realm of impropriety. I am simply suggesting that a little treat goes a long way. Do not underestimate the manipulative power of candy.

This classroom exercise needs very little in terms of preparation. All that is necessary is a talking point for the group. In terms of materials you will need a small bag and a few pieces of candy each for every participant. However, inside one of the bags will be placed an unobtrusive marker of some sort. This could be a number written inside or in the bottom of the bag. Or, one could put a quarter or an index card in the bag.

First you introduce your concept. For example if the topic is manipulation or persuasion:

“Once, I was vacationing in Florida. I remember that as a time when many people used strong persuasive measures on me. Their goal was to sell me a time share. They matched me with a sales person who seemed to reflect my demographic. This sales person brought in a parade of “supervisors” who used concepts like family values, economic value and luxury. They also included a tour of a resort, discount tickets to a local theme park, a breakfast and steadily drop in the price of the time share. The price literally dropped thousands of dollars during the course of the two hour presentation…”

Then you tell the class to think about a time where they recognized someone trying to convince them. Let them know that their example can be subtle, blatant, or even ham-handedly ridiculous. It does not even have to be a direct contact – a commercial or pamphlet will do. I found that telling each student to write some notes on an incident of manipulation in which they were involved works well. Give them a few minutes to do so. When each person reports, they have notes.

Then, present each person with a bag of candy “as a gift”. Of course, the person with a marker on the bottom or inside of the bag will be the first person to report their example of manipulation. This exercise is like a lottery or winning a door prize when you have a number taped under the seat that you randomly select.

When the first person has related the tale of handling, she or he is told to select a “volunteer” from the class to go next. This fosters a bit of playfulness and empowers speakers to appoint someone the instructor may not have selected. And it goes on. The good news is that everyone gets the sweet gift of candy and some or all can support the lesson with tales of their own.

As tales are told, the instructor can write a one or two word descriptor of the style of manipulation used. Of course, some will see the exercise as manipulation. Spoiler alert: It is manipulation. In fact, do not be surprised if someone reports that a time they were persuaded/manipulated was when this classroom activity started.

The timing of this can impact the effectiveness. For example, conducting this before lunch or in mid afternoon might yield better results, as the incentive for a snack is greater at those times. Directly after lunch is not necessarily a good idea, as the classroom may be too bloated to enjoy a treat.

I conducted this exercise for the first time during a Criminal Justice/Corrections class that fell on Halloween. All of the simple gift bags had a few mini candy bars within. One of those bags had a small, plastic snake in keeping in the spirit of the holiday.

Before I field tested this, someone suggested that I add a note in one of the gift bags that said “you are my favorite student.” This, she reasoned, would give a lesson in division and favoritism. In the post mortem, the student who randomly selected the bag with the message admitted that he felt manipulated when he read it. In other words, his radar was on. It was noted that he chose the bag quite randomly. However, this introduced a classroom talk about how favoritism is a form of manipulation.

The cynical and untrusting may unfairly label this as exploiting a weakness for sweets in order to force participation. I prefer to think of it as fostering a willingness to share in the education process by using universally beloved confections. And if you think that this is manipulative, we can talk about it over a snack.