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Contraband control: Weighing the costs and the benefits
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 07/22/2013

1006balance scale3784875 The following is not intended to belabor what may be obvious to some. Rather, this is food for thought. Each of us has to question how much enforcement is too much enforcement.

Where post orders and policy are silent, our discretion is necessary. If, for example, you find something during a search that seems inconsequential or even a nuisance, you still have to make a choice to do something or do nothing.

Do you write up the fishing line you found or just discard it due to the many that you see each day? Do you ignore it and step over it because everyone fishes? Will issuing a misconduct report dissuade further instances? Or will confiscation end the endeavor? In the end, will offenders persist in breaking the basic passing rule, no matter which path you elect to take?

Practitioners differ on what should be disposed of and what shall remain with the prisoner. Even with policy parameters and discretions, the decisions are sometimes difficult. With that in mind, a conceptual step back may clarify the need for contraband control.

Do the costs of enforcement outweigh the benefits? As with discretionary power to dispose of an item, this is up to the individual.

Some of the costs of enforcing contraband control rules on small items are listed below:
  • Difficult;
  • Time consuming;
  • Contraband may be used as a diversion or a sacrifice misconduct in order for something else to be achieved elsewhere;
  • Tedious;
  • Potentially hazardous materials – one could be stuck, injured, or infected by a hidden item;
  • Revenge from prisoners and dirty staff;
  • Very few things found;
  • Ridicule about being a labeled a “Robocop”;
  • Prisoners may harass you with charges of unfair enforcement.

Benefits of contraband control:
  • Enforcing basic rules may dissuade the breaking of major rules;
  • Safety of staff;
  • Safety of prisoners;
  • Safety of the public;
  • Stop injuries and fights;
  • Prevent chaos/preserve stability;
  • Save lives.

Disposal of nuisance contraband, small items that are common and seemingly harmless, is sometimes left to the discretion of the individual staff member. When discretion slows you down and you are uncertain on what to do, simply weigh the benefits of your actions.

I personally believe that the benefits of contraband control outweigh the costs. The most important benefit is safety for all inside the facility and the public. Persistent contraband control is the foundation of safe corrections operations.

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

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