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Corrections professionals share information about contraband
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 05/31/2010

Adult ed Recently, I was invited to speak in Virginia on the topic of contraband control. I did get to rest a bit, meet fascinating jail professionals and enjoyed a location that was new to me. And while I cannot fully share the actual tourist attractions or cuisine with you through the written word, I can offer a part of the conference.

At the conclusion of “Wake up and Smell the Contraband”, there were many who volunteered to offer answers for a survey. Their answers follow:
  1. Is contraband a problem in your facility?

    100 % of those who answered this said “Yes”, though one person commented that contraband “is not a big problem.”

  2. When comparing jail and prison populations, jails generally have a fluid influx of new offenders. Prison populations, by comparison, are somewhat static. Because of this, do you think that there is a difference between the contraband found in most jails and in most prisons? If so, please explain.

    55% of those who answered said that there is a difference between contraband traffic between when comparing jails and prisons. Their comments were:
    • Prisons have opportunity for long-term contraband enterprises. Jails has it more opportunistic – work release and weekenders
    • Those sentenced to jail are doing less time and may not want or need the same things as prison inmates.
    • Prisons with contact visits have more of a problem.
    • Yes, workers or repeat offenders often stock up before returning to jail
    • Jails have more work release and local department trustees, thus giving more variety of contraband brought into jails.
    • Prisoners appear to have more freedom than jails – therefore, contraband may be more prevalent in jails
    • In some prisons they still have smoking of cigarettes whereas in jail it is not allowed but the inmates find ways to get them,
    • Prisons with longer term have time to collect more,
    • Because you are limited to movement in a jail and there is more movement in a prison
    • In prison, I believe there is more contraband than in jail because prison inmates are thinking of new ways to come up with different things

    45% answered that it is the fundamentally same.

  3. What is the most contraband item found in your facility? Cigarettes and tobacco dominated this category. This was followed by stockpiled medication, lighters, food, sharpened tooth brushes, weapons made from tissue, dice, and allowable but excessive property.

    Other items that were mentioned at least once were tattoo supplies, magnets from inside of speakers, clothing, paper, markers, sugar, orange juice, batteries, matches, dew rags, pens, and shanks.

  4. What is the strangest contraband item you have ever found or heard of?

    The most frequently reported items in this category were: hollowed book, pair of horse shoes, cell phone, marijuana, gun, and a fake penis.

    Other items included; ladies panties, liquor bottle, drugs, hot wings, A pet bee, dog, glove crafted into a sexual toy, TV remote, shank from eye glasses, handgun carved out of soap, electric guitar, cigarette in rectum, file, a six foot by two inch metal beam from a broken cell door, cell phone charger, small gun, gun smuggled into facility by an arrestee hidden in his anal cavity .25 caliber, chewing gum, hard ball made out of plastic wrap, a jewelry box topped with a Buddha made of state soap, completed full sized coffee mugs made out of toilet paper, sharpened pork chop bone, pack of condoms, and a Christmas tree made of green paper.

  5. Can contraband in facilities be completely eliminated or simply lowered? 86% reported that contraband could maybe be lowered but never eliminated. Some comments that came from this are:
    • Contraband will always find a way into a facility.
    • In theory yes, lowered, practically, absolutely not.
    • Maybe lowered. I don’t think that you can completely stop it at all.
    • I don’t think that you can eliminate it, but you can lower it.
    • Staff should make sure that other facilities are aware of a potential trader

    12% suggested that contraband could neither be lowered nor eliminated.

    2 % answered that contraband could be eliminated if all staff would do their job correctly.

  6. How can corrections professionals stem the tide of contraband?

    Being more vigilant, better searches and more frequent searches were the most frequently offered answers. Better training and persistence were also mentioned more than once each.

    Other solutions included: x-ray machines, no canteen, no exchange of anything, laundry done in-house, consistency in searches, professional about job, random movement of inmates, holding guilty parties accountable, more unannounced searches, awareness, presence, and better intake procedures.

Conferences can serve as a productive time away from the facility where one can recharge one’s batteries, meet interesting people in the field, and experience a new and exciting place. In addition, one can come away with fascinating data and the expertise collected from the people who attended. Thanks to the participants in Virginia who offered their insights in this survey.

Visit the Joe Bouchard page


  1. kelsey0504 on 07/14/2010:

    I believe that it's impossible to eliminate contraband 100%.. I work at the county level and have noticed that some of the biggest sources of contraband are contact visits, in-house trustees, and hording... Education and experience are the biggest factors in catching it.. Preventing contraband is a different story especially in smaller facilities like mine... Removing contact visits would help to slow the influx, but nothing can stop it from what I've seen so far....

  2. Sarge276 on 07/11/2010:

    This proves that experience is a better teacher than a classroom. Edwige, although I appreciate your interest in CJ and formal education is definitely a plus, I challenge you to spend at least one year as a behind the fence correctional officer (preferably more and not including academy time) and then tell us how you would eliminate contraband. We veteran CO's would love to know. Mr. Bouchard, another unusual piece of contraband you can ad to that list is taper candles. I was working as a barracks officer in a closed yard, medium security facility when I found 2 of them under an inmates mat. I can only guess at how he got them in, but I'm glad I was wearing gloves.

  3. Edwige on 06/08/2010:

    Hello, Having read this article and having recently graduated in the field of Criminal Justice, I believe that the only way contraband can end is not allowing it to exist or take place. Contraband is, and can still be, a dangerous threat to inmates, as well as to correctional officers/staff. The items that are brought in by an inmates´ family should not be allowed. How can this be done?...by simply not allowing inmate visitors to have direct contact with inmates. Whatever a visitor wants to give an inmate, it should be delivered to a correctional officer for him or her to thoroughly check and then deliver directly to an inmate. Edwige M. Ortega Student graduate in Criminal Justice

  4. Swartz on 06/05/2010:

    Contraband would be very difficult to eliminate completely,because not all officials are dedicated to their work 100%.In South Africa this is a major problem and will remain a problem since awaiting trail offenders are housed together with sentenced offenders in the same facility.Awaiting trail offenders are allowed home cooked meals at visits and this is where contraband enters the facilities.Altough all articles are searched this is still a loophole.Amongst the items found on a regular basis are :cellphones,batteries,knives,tobacco,dagga,money tik.These items are hidden in offenders rectum,vigina and mothers even hide these in their babies nappies.Suprise searches are also not always effective since some Officials tip offenders off in advance.Contraband can only be eliminated completely if your team of officials are 100% committed to their work.

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