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Running the Long Race of Contraband Control
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 06/18/2012

Marathon running An important benefit of contraband control is safety for the public, staff, and offenders. That does not mean that it is easy. Not all searches are quick and uncomplicated sprints. The quest for safety through the search sometimes seems like running a series of marathons that you will never finish.

On occasion, while conducting a large-scale search of the library shelves, a song pops in my mind. It is about what goes through the mind of a long distance runner. The piece of music is appropriate, as it highlights a seemingly impossible task. Here are some truisms of the search that are brought to the fore by the song.

It seems futile – Imagine searching for a single needle in a thousand hay stacks and you are only at haystack number 498. When we look up from a long-term job and see that we are less than half way done, it can be disheartening. This is especially true if the search comes up empty. The danger in this is the feeling of futility. Hopelessness compromises the quality of the investigation. Because we have found nothing so far, we reason that nothing will be found and use shortcuts. Ultimately, nothing may be found. However, an important part of the process is in the comforting certainty of thoroughness.

The task never seems to end – The long distance runner may ask, “Who keeps moving the finish line back?” This reminds me of the Mackinac Bridge that joins the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan. That bridge spans five miles. You see crews painting it starting on the north end. It seems that when they finally reach the south end, the paint on the north side is worn and needs to be redone. This is like going through a large area with many hiding places. Once you complete the lengthy task, it needs to be restarted because of the time that has passed.

Determination is the driving force – Often, we will find nothing as the search progresses. Yet, if we skimp on the search, we compromise the process. It is like a thorough hunt through your house in pursuit of missing car keys. Looking in the obvious place is one strategy. If that fails, a systematic, complete search must follow. That is where determination comes in.

It is imperative to continue - Sometimes determination is buttressed by necessity. If you are trying to find your car keys at home, you know that you must succeed. Otherwise, you cannot use the vehicle and it simply becomes an expensive, immobile, three thousand pound weight on your driveway. In corrections, reports of a weapon in a certain area heralds necessity. For the sake of safety for all, it is necessary that the search be conducted.

We are all long distance runners in the search for contraband control. The track is long and the task never seems to be done. Unlike the marathoner, we never cross the final finish line until we retire. Contraband control is a series of long races. When we complete a race, there is another one to do. Stamina and persistence are tools that help us run the long race of safety.

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.

Visit the Joe Bouchard page

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  1. jamestown0509 on 06/23/2012:

    Finding contraband is NOT running a race. Finding contraband in a jail or prison is a daily job, it's something we have to look for all the time because inmates are always thinking of ways to get contraband into the facility.

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