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Contraband – The Rat and Tiger Question
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 08/13/2012

Rat tiger Here's a question that I'm sure you don't hear very often. Would you rather:
    A. …be slowly eaten alive by rats?
    Or
    B. …be torn apart by a tiger?
While both are not likely, the choice with the rats is more possible for most of us. Being torn apart by a tiger is not very likely because they are so rare. So, are rats more dangerous than tigers? If probabilities are accounted for, the danger lies with the rats

Let’s apply this to our ever-present problem of contraband control. Is a rare, technological wonder like a miniature recording device more dangerous than a gambling slip? Does a weapon of intricate design hold more peril for corrections professionals than a razor melted into a toothbrush handle?

Recently, someone outside of the corrections profession asked me about the most ingenious bit of bootleg that I have ever heard of. I will admit that the use of watches with cell phones and mini recorders came to mind first. The crossbow constructed from a chess set brought the notion of dangerous ingenuity to my mind. Other examples of these fiendishly clever items include the narcotic filled candy bar and a crayon drawing laced with controlled substances.

Those items, while rare, either directly or indirectly pose a great danger to staff, the public, and offenders.

Then I thought of smaller, common items found inside our facilities. In its own way, forbidden dice and tobacco may cause trading schemes or even be the tip of an iceberg to a gambling ring. Many dangers surround those ventures. And small, common items wielded by a enterprising prisoner, have their own perilous nature.

It is a question like the tiger and the rat. Certainly, and individual rat will do much less damage than a rare and obviously dangerous tiger. So it is a matter of frequencies, probabilities, and perhaps it being in the wrong place at the wrong time. One may never have to consider a plastic pistol smuggled into a lock up. However, when it is in your face, it is on the forefront of one’s mind.

It is easy to think of low level, nuisance contraband as the rat. The tiger is the exotic, rare thing that one may find only once in a career. In terms of numbers, knowing how to snare a tiger is less important than knowledge of rat trapping.

As luck would have it, however, trapping the tiger and trapping the rat can be done with the same methods. All of the tools that we employ in our normal contraband control procedures, if done right, will defeat or at least frightened both beasts. Of course, they are:
  • Vigilance
  • the overt search
  • the covert search
  • communication between staff
  • documentation
  • reading the signs
  • listening to offenders with the “inside ear”
  • persistence
  • drawing upon your own experience and that of others
  • research of the literature
  • Internet searches

In the end, rare and ingenious contraband items and common bits of bootleg are the same in at least one respect. Both can be dangerous. The frequency in which we encounter any specific item is not as important as the idea that these items are the root of dangers. Whether an item is rare or not, the prisoner who wields it usually has an unfair advantage. With that they can dictate favors, arrange for unauthorized comforts, and build the power base. It is the duty of staff to eliminate or at least lessen the opportunities for enterprising inmates to create, trade, and use contraband. The safety of all inside depends on this.

Corrections.com author, Joe Bouchard, writes and presents on many corrections topics. He is a Librarian at Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility within the Michigan Department of Corrections. He is also a member of the Board of Experts for The Corrections Professional, Editor of The Correctional Trainer and MCA Today, and an instructor of Corrections for Gogebic Community College. You can reach him at (906) 353-7070 ext 1321. He is also the author of three books including "Icebreakers III," the third in IACTP's series of training exercises books.

These are the opinions of Joe Bouchard, a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections. These are not necessarily the opinions of the Department. The MDOC is not responsible for the content or accuracy

Visit the Joe Bouchard page


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Comments:

  1. jamestown0509 on 08/13/2012:

    When you said comparing contraband to a rat or tiger, the rat in my opinion is a CO or someone from the outside bringing in contraband and the tiger are the officers who find contraband. Searching for contraband is a constant job for all officers and facilities.


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