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Contraband Control in Prison
By Tracy E. Barnhart
Published: 04/06/2009

Contraband2009mar25 Tracy Barnhart is a Marine combat veteran of Desert Storm / Desert Shield. In 2000, he joined the Ohio Department of Youth Services at the Marion Juvenile Corrections Facility, a maximum security male correctional facility housing more than 320 offenders. Barnhart works with 16 to 21-year-old, male offenders with violent criminal convictions and aggressive natures.

I have seen a consensus all across the country about institutional contraband and the desire to stop it. Especially stopping the introduction of cellular telephones being difficult to trace. You will never totally eliminate the contraband unless you automate personnel at your facilities with robots and totally take away the human factor. As long as there are people to bewilder, manipulate and intimidate there will always be contraband. I heard a story today where a mother of an inmate French kissed her son in visitation, passing contraband through her mouth into his. I mean, how are you going to stop that? In this article I want to talk about the “human factor” identifying people who are bringing contraband into the facility by staff, visitors, and volunteers and how to tell they are dirty.

People become nervous when they possess contraband, exhibiting "abnormal” behaviors. Individuals entering your facilities that you suspect of introducing contraband require controlled interaction sometimes called a "walk and talk”. This is the key in the successful identification called “criminal behavioral profiling.” The skillful officer knows that the verbal part of the lie is the easiest part of the lie itself to project. It can be rehearsed and practiced repeatedly prior to the interaction and can therefore be more difficult to spot. Because the individual is under the extreme stress of getting caught in his lies, he will subconsciously reveal his stress in certain patterns. It takes a lot of training and experience to become proficient but once officers understand the basic principals, they say, the stress induced behaviors become remarkably clear to see.

There are four (4) ways in which contraband is introduced into our facilities:
  1. Visitation interaction

  2. Staff or volunteer interaction

  3. Thrown over the wall

  4. Mailed into the facility
Each introduction is intricate and specific in how they accomplish the criminal deed. I am going to give you the body language indicators that may be exhibited by an individual possessing contraband attempting entry into your facility. If you are a front entry or visitation officer you should be diligent and conduct a behavior profiling of the visitors and corrupt staff entering your facilities. Humans themselves exhibit undue stress when they are doing something in which they know is fundamentally wrong. Anyone entering your facility should clearly understand that possessing contraband will be criminally prosecuted without undue delay. Erect signs with the criminal laws and penalties and that they are under video surveillance so that everyone can see that they are committing a crime. As institutional officers we can use these behavior profiling indicators to assist you in controlling the flow of contraband.

Some of the things officers might look for include the following:
  • Physical expressions such as arm and hand movements are stiff, and mechanical. Hands, arms and if seated the legs will all be pulled up toward the body. They will feel more secure if they seem covered up preventing you from seeing them for what they are.

  • Deliberate and forceful attempts to not make eye contact darting eyes; with pupils constricted. Limited eye contact indicates a person may be feeling insecure or they may also be lying and not want to be detected. You know the old saying: “the eyes are the windows of the soul” Sometimes liars, knowing that low eye contact is a sign of lying, will over-compensate and look at you for a longer than usual period. Often this is done without blinking as they force themselves into this act. They may smile with the mouth, but not with the eyes as this is more difficult.

    1. When a person is feeling uncomfortable, the eyes may water a little. To cover this and try to restore an appropriate dryness, they person may rub their eye and maybe even feign tiredness or having something in the eye. This also gives the opportunity to turn the head away. The rubbing may be with one finger, with a finger and thumb for two eyes or with both hands. The more the coverage, the more the person is trying to hide behind their hands.

    2. Blinking: Blink rate tends to increase when people are thinking more. This can be an indication of lying as the liar has to keep thinking about what they are saying. The normal blink rate is about 20 closures per minute. Significantly faster blink rates may reflect emotional anxiety or stress as aroused during the fight or flight response.

  • Quivering, overactive Adam's apple in men, clearing their throat and a lot of swallowing

  • Profuse sweating or perspiration increases forming beads on the forehead.

  • Pulsing carotid artery, which you can actually observe through a throbbing neck vein when blood pressure becomes elevated.

  • Inappropriate or excessive clothing for the weather conditions

  • Voice changes, becoming overly combative or stressful loud tones of voice, regardless of what one is saying when you start to question them.

  • Loitering around the lobby by pacing or perceived physical stress about entering without specific reasons. Individual may enter the lobby then exit several times before they get up the nerve to go forth.

  • Long periods studying parts of the institution, reading posted signs especially about security areas and penalties.
Officers need to make conversation with all who enter the facility and ask simple questions to individuals you suspect of introducing contraband into the facility. Criminals want to get in and get out quickly; you getting in the way create stress. Act deaf making them repeat or speak more loudly. Matching up verbal indicators with the specific physical behaviors they exhibit will help build your probable cause for a contraband case, questions such as:
  • "How are you today?"

  • "Where are you heading?"

  • "Is this all the property you have?"
It's almost irrelevant what their answers are, it’s more relevant how physically they respond to your questions. Vague, evasive verbalization, mentally searching for the right responses or if fear, stress or anxiety shows itself may indicate the undue stress, deceit or body language that you are looking for.
  • Hands to Face Gestures are the easiest to spot or a trade of hand gestures with a specific person, perhaps a coconspirator. The deceptive individual will often engage in touching their hands to their face in grooming type gestures that reveal what he is really thinking:

    • Hand to nose: “I Can’t stand the smell of my own lies”
    • Hand to eyes: “I don’t want to be here right now, this is stressful”
    • Hand to ears: “I don’t want to hear what you are saying to me”
    • Hand to mouth: “Be careful what you say, don’t let the truth slip out”

  • His or her body is physically turned away from you, or there are unusual or unnatural body gestures. They want to have as little physical contact with you as possible.

  • His or her breathing rate increases. A deceptive person is typically anxious that they might be found out unless they are psychopathic or very good at acting, so they may send signals of tension throughout their body. Many individuals being deceptive have hidden anxiety signals. For example: Biting the inside of the mouth, patting their head, hands in pockets clasped into a fist.

  • Complexion changes such as in color; red in face or neck area and at the tops of the ears. As blood pressure increases the stress and anxiety will become noticeable.

  • Voice changes such as change in pitch, stammering, throat clearing. Contraband can be placed under the tongue or in the cheek making speech difficult or mumbled.

  • They will not seem at ease in their general mannerisms and will be restlessness so that even if they get a chance to rest and relax, they cannot do so.

When in doubt, Seek & SEARCH and then, SEARCH again. When anyone is entering there is contraband being brought in; everyday. Of course, there will always be those who have honed their deception skills to perfection, and they’re never easy to catch. Hardened criminals, or hardened criminal staff, especially ones who have been incarcerated or interrogated dozens of times before, they get better and better at lying. Stay Vigilant!

Other articles by Barnhart:


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