Have you ever asked yourself, “What is the best contraband available to staff?” In various incarnations of the presentation that I deliver called Wake up and Smell the Contraband, I have asked participants their many opinions of what is the best contraband control tool. Some of offered these as top candidates: mirrors on telescoping handles, metal detectors, cell phone detectors, and drug sniffing dogs. These are just a few of the many answers offered.
All of those have somewhat specialized functions. Still, there is an answer that is consistently offer that is neither mechanical nor electronic. And I’ve heard these answers in formal and informal queries from jail and prison staff. This tool transcends all levels and agencies geographical limits. And it is an answer that has remained consistent over the years. The tool of choice for many corrections professionals is communications.
In the war against contraband where safety is our major goal, communications is useful for many reasons:
Of course, with all jobs there are certain tools that need to be employed. And while communications is a very important component in the toolbox is safety, it is not the only tool. However, when used in conjunction with crime mapping shared observations and various search tactics, our chances for enhancing safety in our facilities is increased.
- It is already built into the system. There is an official chain of command which information flows. Also unofficial vines snake through our operations. When any contraband tip is uncovered, the staff body who communicates well will disseminate the information to all corners.
- Communications is not just conducted in verbal mode. It can also be done electronically. E-mail is nothing new to corrections. However, with digital cameras information flows from screen to screen with pictorial clarity. Clarity comes in different forms and in different potencies. Less is lost in translation with the written and picture communications.
- In addition, there is permanence with electronic record. It is something that can be reviewed long after it is initially sent.
- Communication opens up professional synapses. As information is conveyed, different parties can add stories and ideas. This is a sort of brainstorming and recollection that aids in the contraband control process. Staff benefit as the data travels. The more stories and information, the better store of tools.
- Staff communication has a wider potential than is normally employed. Communication should be expanded in those cases. We should always remember to disseminate two different shifts, different areas, and other institutions. Sometimes, news of something found in food services on midnights does not make it to for example, the library. This could be a critical error if materials from library are used for the enterprise in the kitchen. If all parties are not notified, preventative measures are less likely to occur. That example points to the interconnectedness of operations. In short there is never too much information about contraband between staff.
Editor's note: Corrections.com author, Joe Bouchard, has been with the Michigan Department of Corrections since 1993 as a Librarian for the Baraga Correctional Facility. He also teaches criminal justice and corrections classes for Gogebic Community College. He is the editor of The Correctional Trainer, the official journal of the International Association of Corrections Training Personnel and MCA Today, the official journal of the Michigan Corrections Association.
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