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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.

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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.

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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.

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Contraband is contraband

October 28th, 2012

Offenders come and go, but the shared goal of contrabandists is pretty much constant: To use goods and services to enhance power and personal comfort while incarcerated. Following are six points to ponder.

Contraband is contraband. As you consider the following, remember that though something looks innocuous, it may be part of something larger. Danger is possible through a chain of events or associations. The potential for peril is not lessened because of staff perceptions of “little, nuisance contraband”. Contraband is contraband, no matter the style, immediate apparent value, or size.

Is an item innocent? For example, though gum and pop containers are clearly not shanks, they are potentially dangerous. Chewed gum, applied correctly, can disable locks. Soft drink containers can store noxious, intoxicating and/or disgusting liquid agents. Corrections staff should remind themselves from time to time that everything has a use.
Watch your trash. That which we throw away can be used to compromise the safety of those that we work with rather than those that we watch. Proper disposal of items that we take for granted is crucial. Remember the seemingly innocent often is not.

Ingenuity is alive and well. Here is another uncomfortable corrections fact: If we can conceive it, offenders can probably create it. If we can imagine a simple candy box turning into a weapon, then some weapons-smith somewhere is doing it right now in some facility. The deodorant container, for example, may contain deodorant. Then again, it may not.

Out of sight does not mean out of danger. Consider the lock in a sock. If combination and padlocks were to be removed from the permitted property list, an alternative would be found. Out of sight might mean out of mind. But out of sight does not mean out of danger. Peril exists, no matter how many restrictions are imposed by policy. Just because an item should not be in the facility does not mean that it will not be hidden for another time.

Be realistic. It is best that we apply another contraband control law: “Staff should remain realistic.” The realism of contraband control is important to retain. There’ll always be danger, no matter how well we search. Staff who believe that we’ll find everything in each and every triumphant sweep are bound to become discouraged. This is not to cast a negative shadow over the concept. It is, however, a way to honestly assess the general nature of contraband control.

Collect and remember ticks played upon us. If we do not remember where new concealment tricks, we ultimately make our task more difficult later. While we will not find everything, it is up to us to look, record, and eliminate future bootlegging opportunities.

An example lies in prison-made alcohol. It is no secret that some offenders will constantly try to cook spud juice or its inebriating cousins under our collective nose. On the face of it, these enterprises should be easy to find. But, realistically, we are often surprised by the clever manner in which the hooch manufacturing was concealed.

Staff do battle every day to keep facilities safe from contraband traders. Every contraband control trick we learn is valuable, even those we stumble upon a due to a poorly executed plan.

In the end, the contraband search can be very tedious and very difficult. However staff members that are vigilant, tenacious, and realistic will pull enough bootleg out of the system in order to make the facility safer for staff, offenders and the public.

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Contraband Control

Food service staff as partners in contraband control

October 1st, 2012

Food service staff in correctional facilities have the awesome responsibility of ensuring that quality meals are prepared and delivered to hundreds of people. This happens three times a day, all year long – regardless of the state of equipment.

But, in this relentless preparation of meals for hundreds, there is a potential for profound danger. This comes in two basic forms, barter and weapons. This double threat can be common in the kitchen area. Quite simply, there is a huge potential for the contrabandist in the food service area. Because of this, food service staff are important partners in contraband control efforts.

Food as barter. Food and items acquired from the kitchen can be used as barter. Food can be used as contraband, mostly in the way of trade for other goods and services. Extra rations can be promised by prisoner workers in exchange for protection, sex, as a payoff for gambling, etc. There are also many raw materials in the kitchen that can be used to produce prison-made alcohol.

Kitchen weapons. Materials to create weapons often originate from the kitchen. They can be made from discarded cans, altered equipment, and packaging. There are many other opportunities to acquire weapons. Staff patterns are scrutinized by enterprising prisoners to discern the perfect occasion to loosen unessential steel or plastic. If it moves, it will dislodge. If it dislodges, it is a weapon. The kitchen is not free of hazard.

Like other non-custody staff, food service staff perform three particular roles in contraband control. They feed the information machine, relate tales of contraband to newer staff, and monitor the work patterns of prisoners on assignment in the kitchen.

Even in this busy and potentially dangerous part of the facility, food service workers are inherently security-minded. They can be valuable as intelligence gatherers. The observant food steward sees who dines with whom and notes who no longer dines with whom. Also, prisoner kitchen worker dynamics can be interpreted. All notable occurrences should be reported to other food service staff, officers, and up the chain of command. Also, those food service workers with institutional intuition can share feelings of uneasiness.

Effective food service staff seek and report contraband in order to keep a safe area of control. Maintaining a strong presence and employing overt and covert searches accomplishes this. It also includes cooperation and rapport with custody staff and the inspector.

Contraband control is a difficult and sometimes lonely task. If the ultimate goal is to maintain a safe institution for staff to work and prisoners to live, then all staff should participate actively in this vital duty. Contraband control is not just for officers. The more staff that assist in this, the safer the facility will be.

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Contraband Control

The overt search for contraband

September 8th, 2012

Contraband is everywhere. Whatever the form or amount, it is always potentially dangerous in a correctional facility.

An important instrument in the fight against contraband is the physical search. In its most basic form, it is a visual inspection of the any area of control. Two kinds of searches are overt and covert searches. This is a choice that will depend on the circumstance.

During an overt search, staff are not masking the fact that they are looking for contraband. It is not a stealthy sting. The overt search is meant to be seen by prisoners.

The overt search has many benefits. Among them are:

Impression. The overt, or the open search. is partly for show. If you want to allow prisoners to see that you are taking part in the actual search, the overt search is best. It may be that staff will want to paint an obvious picture. The message is that they intend to keep the area clear of items intended for illicit trade. If one prisoner sees the prominent display of examination, then it is likely that the prison grapevine will inform others of such. Overt searches can be timed for peak prisoner traffic times. The desired result is that news of the search will disseminate.

Deterrent. Prisoners may abort or suspend future plans for hiding or trading contraband in a certain place if they see staff combing the area regularly. The well-watched area is not the place to risk valuable goods. The overt search may serve as the inspiration for prisoners to remove well-hidden contraband from the area.

Serendipity. There is always the surprise of finding something unexpectedly. And, the overt search might just produce a clue to some other institutional mystery. By looking for nothing in particular, staff might unearth something that helps solve a riddle that has plagued the inspector for some time.

There are many cautions to consider when employing the overt search. Sometimes it just is not appropriate for staff to make prisoners aware of the search. For example, there may be a danger in prisoners knowing that staff will search a particular area. Or, an obvious search may thwart the time and effort invested in a lengthy investigation already in progress. If stealth is more appropriate for the situation, the covert method of search is preferred.

Also, those that use the overt method should not just go through the motions of the shakedown. If you are searching, you should actually look. You should not pretend to inspect.

Adept prisoners may be able to see through a feigned search. If it is believed that the search is just for show, some may challenge the level of scrutiny. They may test the thoroughness of staff by planting something with little value (sacrifice contraband) in an obvious place. After the overt search, they would arrange to check if the planted item was disturbed.

And, prisoners may reason that if an overt search has been performed, it may take a while before the next time the area is scheduled to be examined. They may believe that areas are not necessarily searched randomly, but in a rigid order.

Despite the cautions surrounding the overt search, it is still an important corrections tool. Any search is time and effort invested into institutional safety for staff and prisoners. Searches for contraband are indispensable in the workday of all corrections staff.

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Contraband Control

Battling contraband from outside the secure perimeter

August 11th, 2012

The fundamental safety tactic of contraband control is part of everyone’s duty. You don’t have to wear a uniform or be inside the secure perimeter of the facility in order to assist in the security of the institution.
Those working outside the secure perimeter can assist in the battle against the adverse effects of illicit goods.
While those outside the secure perimeter cannot fully participate in the psychical search for contraband inside, they can perform three particular roles in contraband control. They can feed the information machine, relate tales of contraband from earlier phases of their careers, and look at the work patterns of prisoner porters.
Feed the information machine. Assisting in intelligence gathering is easy. Mailroom staff are ideally positioned to do this. Staff may receive or intercept correspondence from prisoners that contain nuggets of information. This knowledge would be routed to the inspector.
Tales of contraband. Some staff working outside of the secure perimeter have corrections experience inside. They are acclimated to how some prisoners may move illicit goods. They may even be aware of specific older prisoners in the system. Staff who formerly worked within the secure perimeter know of the many possible unauthorized activities through experience. Also, cautionary tales and other accounts of contraband can be told for the benefit of newer staff. On the face of it, this does not appear to be as helpful as the actual psychical search. But, talking about contraband to newer staff assists in getting them to think about what could happen.
Watching prisoners. Those outside the gates should scrutinize the patterns of the prisoner porters. Contraband travels between levels of custody and institutions. Lower custody level prisoner porters in your work area may be vehicles for bootleg. They are not exempt from analysis. Ask yourself, does one prisoner porter clean the staff bathroom then another porter enters that bathroom immediately? Is this place a drop and pass location? Is there a loose floor molding or hand dryer that could serve as hiding spot for contraband?

Non-custody staff outside the secure perimeter can be of great value in identifying and reporting contraband movement patterns. Their intelligence gathering can lend the information necessary to stop dangerous enterprises. In doing so, they make it safer for staff, prisoners, and the public.

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Contraband Control

mixed morality training exercise

August 4th, 2012

Mixed morality

Nobody’s perfect, or so it is said. And it seems in corrections that the negative can receive more attention than the positive. Still, our professional integrity dictates that we do the right thing for the public. Unfortunately, every now and again, someone in our ranks will break the rules and attract public scrutiny.

Morality training and professionalism can come in at least two forms. You may see it as a primary module as you enter the department. Another manner in which morality/professional training is administered is in the wake of a scandal. Whether the training is proactive like the former or reactive like the latter is of less consequence than the main point: We must all do the right thing.

Then comes the exercise called “mixed morality”. This is a competition and question/answer exercise. It is very simple to perform this icebreaker. In addition, there are no props, no overt physical activities, and really no wrong answers, if you think about it.

1. The class is divided into two teams. The facilitator may wish to create the teams by grouping every other person on opposite sides of the room, by random selection, or letting teams assemble themselves. This is not important as long as there are two separate teams.
2. The teams will elect one person to answer morality questions. They will be told that they are to select an answer for the entire team on moral problems and dilemmas.
3. Armed with 10 questions (like the set that follows) the facilitator will ask the questions of both team captains.
4. Here is the wrench in the works: There are two possible answers, but each team will not know what the answers are. And the facilitator will read only the question, leaving both answer unknown to each captain. The team that goes first may choose option one or option two. Both options will be blind, random answers. Therefore, the other remaining answer will go to the team that has not selected. The team captain will select only one or two and cannot justify or modify an answer after it is read.
5. Each team will start at zero. The answer that they select will be accompanied with a positive or negative number value. As questions go on, a scorekeeper will mark on the board the numeric value and add or subtract that from zero.
6. Another option is to ask these questions in a large room. Both team leaders will stand in the middle of the room. If their random selection for a moral question is positive, that team leader will step forward as many steps as directed. On the other hand, if the random selection for the moral question has a negative value, the person who selected (or was defaulted) that answer will step back as directed in the answer.
7. Move on to the second question. The team captain that selected the positive answer will get to select option one or option two for the next question.
8. Continue this through number 10.
9. The team with the highest score or the team that has stepped forward the furthest will be declared the winner.

Here is a sample test with blind/random options:

The instructor can start by saying,

“Sometimes, circumstances will dictate how we choose to act. Not all decisions are clear and not all answers are easy. The team leader that wins coin toss will be given a question and asked to select option one or two. This is truly a matter of luck, as you may or may not necessarily agree with the content of the option. With each option comes a positive or negative score. Your choice might not be how you would react in real life. However, this is designed with a few wildcards to represent real-life circumstances that may alter your decision. Your opponent will, by default, be assigned the option that you did not choose. Whatever gets the highest point in each question will be permitted to have first selection of the options in the following question. There are 10 questions. The team that scores the highest is the winning team.”

1. You are in a beautiful national park. There is no one for miles around. The gum that you started to chew as you left your car has lost all flavor resembles nothing more than rubber. No one will see you and you assume that there are no trail cameras. Do you spit out your gum?

Option one:
You spit out your gum. No one will see you anyway. Your score is -1.

Option two:
Patience! You dispose of your gum in a receptacle designed for trash which is located at the trailhead. Your score is +1.

2. You witness a senior citizen place a candy bar in her purse. You are behind the would-be shoplifter in line at the cash register. You see by the form of payment for the other groceries that the senior has plenty of money. Do you report the crime?

Option one:
You whisper to the senior citizen that she forgot to pay for the candy bar in her purse. Your score is +1

Option two:
You mind your own business and don’t worry about the cost to consumers. Your score is -1.

3. You see a semi-dead rabbit on a rural road. It appears that it had been run over by a vehicle and is living its last moments in agony. You have a shovel in your trunk. Do you put the creature out of its misery?

Option one:
Keep on driving and forget about it. It is just a casualty of nature. Your score is -1.

Option two:
You stop by the side of the road, retrieve the shovel from the trunk, and quickly and humanely sever the head from the body. Your score is +1.

4. In your corrections academy, you are taking the final exam for the criminal justice module. You are confident and are nearly done with the test. The person next to you is a devoted corrections professional as far as you can see. However, he is looking at your answer sheet and copying your answers. What do you do?

Option one:
You cover your answers. After all, it was up to him to study and you do not wish to jeopardize your chances of working in corrections through someone else’s mistake. Your score is +1

Option two:
You played dumb. You allow the person to cheat and you pretend not to notice. Your score is -1.

5. You leave the restaurant and just before you reach your car you see on the pavement by your car and expensive but functioning handheld videogame. This is a videogame that you’ve always wanted to play. You see no one around. Do you walk into the restaurant and presented to the staff person behind the counter?

Option one:
You keep it. If the person was foolish enough to let it drop from their hand, it is their tough luck. Your score is -1

Option two:
Turn it into the staff person. It doesn’t matter that you have to walk back inside the restaurant even though you have just left. You would want someone to do the same for you. Your score is +1.

6. You have just enough time to get to work. On the side of the road, you see a neighbor with a flat tire. It looks like she is not doing too well in changing the flat. As a bit of background, this neighbor seems to have trained her large dog to defecate only on your lawn. Though you may be late, do you help your neighbor change the tire?

Option one:
You reap what you sow. Why should you do this person a favor? Keep driving! The score is -1

Option two:
As painful as it is, stop and help. At least pull over and ask if she needs assistance. Your score is +1.

7. You are on vacation with your spouse. At the breakfast buffet in the hotel you realize that you have spare minutes to eat before going on your planned excursion. Your spouse gets the coffee from across the room. You get a couple of muffins. They are the last two muffins – just enough for you two to eat breakfast. One of the muffins drops on the floor. A quick inspection, you see no dust. Still, you blow on the top of the muffin, hoping that your germs pose less of a threat than whatever was tracked in on the floor. Your spouse, diligently preparing coffee just the way you like, did not witness any of this. What do you do?

Option one:
You confess that you dropped one of the muffins. You explain that it looks clean enough and that you can both eat half of both muffins. Give the option of you eating the fallen muffin. The score is +1.

Option two:
Place the fallen muffin in front your spouse. Inwardly you reason that what you don’t know won’t hurt you. Your score is -1.

8. You purchase some candy for $.75 with a $10 bill. The cashier, believing that you paid with the $20 bill, gives you $19.25 for change. This is $10 in your favor. What do you do?
Option one:
You have been shopping here for years. You’ve supported the store for over a decade. Will $10 really hurt in the larger scheme of things? You do not report the error. Your score is -1.

Option two:
Your integrity is not worth $10. You report the error. Your score is +1.

9. It is rush hour during lunch time at a fast food restaurant. Two different lines form and in a disorganized manner. You are standing right next to someone who has been in line longer than you. When cashier asked for the next person in line, you see that the person next to you does not move up. What do you do?
Option one:
According to the old saying, “the race is to the swift”. If you snooze, you lose. Step up! Your score is -1.

Option two:
You simply tell the person that they are next in line. Your score is +1.

10. You contacted your cable network and canceled a premium channel. A month later, you notice that you still have the channel but have not been charged for. What do you do?
Option one:
You inform cable company of their error. You want to receive what you have not paid for. This is +1.

Option two:
You reason that a multibillion-dollar cable company will not miss $10 per month. Plus, you’ve always paid your bill on time. Your score is -1.

At the end of the exercise, the teams may actually be tied. It is truly a 50/50 proposition. That really doesn’t matter. What’s important is that not all decisions are cut and dry.

You can post some of the following questions to the class if you have time to drive additional points home.

• Have any of these scenarios actually happened to you? If so, how did you act?
• Does having no money ever justify shoplifting?
• If the only law that existed was “might makes right” like in a post-apocalyptic world, would moral decisions be assessed differently than now?
• From whom did you learn right and wrong?
• Is it cheating if no one ever knows about it?

In the end, morality training can be a bit uncomfortable. Be that as it may, with an icebreaker like mixed morality, you can use interesting segues into these crucial modules.

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Working definitions of contraband

July 21st, 2012

As Justice Potter Stewart said of obscenity so many years ago, “…I know it when I see it.” [1] While memorable, that simply points out the difficulties in explaining concepts.

When we think of contraband, the same idea of “I know it when I see it” may seem to work as a definition on the surface. However, with the possible sanctions and increased security levels on the table, an offender may naturally contest the definition.

What is the big deal about defining bootleg? Corrections staff want a solid definition so that the rules of their facility can be enforced. The less ambiguity there is, the more likely a misconduct report will successfully be processed. With that comes increased safety for offenders, staff and the public. Quite simply, contraband control increases safety for all.

However, not all agencies use the same definition of contraband. Here is one definition:

“Contraband is any illegal good. It is something that is not permitted in the facility. It is anything prohibited by law, rule, or policy. It is someone else’s property, purloined or borrowed or authorized property in excessive amounts. Contraband can be permitted items that have been altered without permission.”[2]

By that definition we can compile a list of specific items that could be considered contraband. However, one professional’s list of forbidden items may be contested. Among those who could disagree are other professionals, including the facility’s Hearings Officer, offenders, and the courts. Never-the-less, it is not an empty exercise to analyze elements of the definition in more concrete terms.

Any illegal good-
No one – the incarcerated and the free general public – is permitted to possess narcotics. Certain weapons are forbidden even to collectors. These sorts of contraband are rather easy to define. If it is illegal in the free world, it is definitely contraband in the hands of offenders.

Not permitted in the facility-
While most members of the general public have a cell phone, they are increasingly forbidden in most facilities. In fact, only certain staff under very special conditions may possess cell phones in certain worksites. The dangers of cell phones in the hands of enterprising inmates has been explained in other places [3]. But it was not until the item was officially forbidden in the facility in written form that the definition became clearer.

Another example of something not permitted in a facility but is still legal for the general public to possess is a pocket knife or a registered hand gun. Duct tape is another example of something easily obtained by citizens but verboten for offenders.

Someone else’s property (purloined)-
Prisoners are not allowed to take others’ property. If an offender has an mp3 player that belongs to another prisoner, then it could be considered contraband. The same is true of clothing, books, papers, and just about any other personal item.

Some stolen items are harder to define as belonging to another. For example, it is always difficult to track the food items officially purchased from the commissary then unofficially re-appropriated in the prisoner population.

Someone else’s property (with permission)-
When we find an offender in possession of another’s property, it can be considered contraband. Often, the holder will state that he has permission for the other offender. However, if your agency has it in policy, offenders may not officially loan items to others.

The number on a coat that a prisoner wears should match his identification number.

Authorized property in excessive amounts-
In correctional facilities, the unauthorized economy is in constant flux. Incarcerated entrepreneurs rise and fall with the steady undulations of supply and circumstances. Therefore, it is not unusual to discover hoards of items hidden in cells and often surprising storage areas. Prisoners may have official permission to possess certain items. But when the authorized item is held in excess, it may be contraband.

Would, for example, a prisoner really need to have sixteen rolls of toilet paper in his cell at one time? Can twenty boxes of snack cakes indicate an extreme sweet tooth or the tip of the iceberg for a trade operation? Are many pills a sign of a careful consumer or someone who has systematically concealed medication under the tongue? Is a large stack of metered envelopes or copious stamps the mark of a prolific letter writer or another method of exchange? All of these can be answered by what the agency’s policy and /or the Hearings Officer define as “excessive”.

Altered items-
One can see many strange in a correctional facility. The ingenuity and improvisation is staggering at times. It may be as simple as a shirt sleeve fashioned into a cap. From dozens of chewing gum wrappers an interesting photograph frame may be crafted. A sculpture can be made from soap and paper towel. These are just a few examples of seemingly innocuous items that were altered from their original purpose.

What about dangerous items? Eye glasses frames can be modified into a piercing weapon. Newspaper can be moistened, formed, dried, and made into a club. Staples and adhesive bandages can be transformed into a prickly and dangerous set of knuckle enhancing weapons.

All of this does not say in strict terms what shall always be considered contraband. These are just a few examples in a vast sea of possibilities. In the end, it may be that we know an item is contraband just because we know it when we see it. However, the official explanations provided by your agency should make that item easier to define.

[1] 01/10/2010
[2]-Wake up and smell the contraband: A Guide to Improving Prison Safety. (2nd edition) Horsham PA: LRP Publications, 2005, by Joseph Bouchard.
[3] Bouchard, Joe “Cell phones – The new contraband” May 4, 2009.

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Contraband Control

Contraband be dammed!

June 27th, 2012

Although a dam has many uses, flood control is probably the most common. We have been using dams for centuries as a way to maintain safety for citizens. Yet, many of us rarely think of the solid, silent barrier that keeps water where it should be until it breaks. Still, without it, many areas would be very different and less stable.
In that sense, corrections professionals everywhere are a wall of security. We are the unsung heroes in the criminal justice system that keep the public safe by serving as another unseen obstruction against the forces of lawlessness.

Training is a very important part of what makes a corrections professional effective. There are so many parts of instruction that make up this whole. Communication skills, self defense and security threat group awareness are just a few of these. I believe that one of the most important, yet often overlooked, areas of instruction is contraband control.

In my training module “Wake up and smell the contraband”, I outline many concepts and strategies about the common persistence of smuggled goods in correctional institutions. Here are a few points about the nature of illicit trade:
• Everything is for sale.
• Contraband equals power. It allows anyone to purchase the services of others. Someone who is physically weak, with the help of contraband, can acquire protection. That makes anyone potentially formidable.
• Contraband control is a never-ending proposition. Prisoners new to the system will test it as though it had never been tested. Older prisoners will patiently wait until classic modes have been forgotten. With the profit to be had, the lure will always be present.
• Contraband lords are magnets for those who want to obtain associative power. Many inmates will hitch their wagon to the rising stars of bootleg entrepreneurs. The more successful a reputation, the more followers a contraband lord will have.
• The greater the profits from commerce, the more difficulty in prisoner managements. For example, when something is eliminated from an area, the scarcity rives the prices up. If tobacco becomes officially forbidden in segregation units, the demand will remain the same, but the reward for traffickers increases. More prisoners will take risks. The catalyst is profit and increased power.
• Old tricks recycle while new inventions of concealment and transport, though less frequent, continue. Seasoned professionals may take note, for example, of recurrent resurgences in certain methods. One might see the old hollowed-out book vehicle for contraband once in a few years. Through a career, we see fewer new methods as our collection of known modes expands with experience.
• Exchanges and trafficking, when traced fully, are good indicators of dynamics. Documentation of the contraband trail may yield excellent discoveries of intelligence which may later buttress security.
• To prisoners, contraband equals comfort.
• Personnel will find a depressingly low number of all of the illicit items in a facility. Prisoners simply have ample time at their disposal to compose concealment ideas. That is neither fatalism nor defeatism, but realism. Facilities with alert, committed employees and proactive contraband control processes can improve on success ratios.
• Foiling unauthorized commerce enhances security.

Of course, knowing a bit about the nature of contraband is just the first step in maintaining the dam that tirelessly holds back the potential flood of danger. There are many search methods and varying philosophies on the matter. Also, contraband control is not always a simple matter. It is not just stumbling across a discarded shank on the walk. When fully executed, it can be a multi-tiered, coordinated process.

Contraband control is a fundamental part of training for all corrections staff. It is a necessary component for the safety of staff, offenders and the public. Training on the topic of eliminating (or at least mitigating) illicit good in our facilities is really a way to maintain our wall of security against the plentiful and persistent erosive elements. Without it, we are really just an aging dam with cracks and an ominous future.

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Contraband Control