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Three smuggler’s motivations: TLC
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 08/12/2013

Drugdog I believe that most corrections staff are honest and honorable. They act under dangerous conditions every day to fulfill the mission of safety for staff, prisoners, and the public. It is the epitome of public service. Corrections staff are the hidden heroes of the Criminal Justice System.

Unfortunately, not everyone is honest. From time to time, stories break in the news about staff who smuggle contraband inside the facility. Despite the nobility of the profession, ‘dirty’ staff are not absent from the equation.

When staff bring contraband into a facility, there are three chief dangers. First, a prisoner or a group of prisoners may become powerful and compromise security. The contraband item itself can be a source of direct or indirect power. Second, the staff person is a weak link who gives advantage by overlooking misconduct. Third, once discovered, the honest staff reassess how much they had formerly trusted the smuggler. Trust between staff is a fundamental glue in corrections. When that bond is broken, we are less effective, as we spend more time scrutinizing each other than monitoring prisoners. Betrayal is a psychological hurdle that is difficult to get over.

I think that there are three main motivations for staff to smuggle. They are simple to remember with the letters TLC. They are the thrill seeker, the libidinous, and the compromised.

Thrill seeker –
Some people derive pleasure from deceiving others. The jolt that thrill seekers get from performing forbidden acts can be intoxicating and addictive. One of the most forbidden acts for corrections staff is to introduce contraband into the facility.

Libidinous -
Another forbidden act –an illegal act and cardinal corrections sin - is for staff to have sex with prisoners. Lust / ‘love’ is a way that some fall under the spell of the contrabandist. With that as a motivation, the relationship between smuggler and manipulator becomes one of puppet and puppet master.

Compromised -
When some staff are caught in a mistake, they conceal it. Often, in exchange for the false promise of not revealing the mistake, the enterprising prisoner asks staff to bring in a small, forbidden item. Eventually, they allow themselves to be manipulated into misconduct. Of course, the trap is sprung when the prisoner’s demands increase in size and danger. Many staff-assisted escapes have root in a simple compromise.

In a perfect world, zero percent of staff smuggle. However, the world is not perfect. How can we help mitigate this?
  • Staff should take routine searches of staff as routine.
  • Understand the motivations to smuggle and look for tell-tale signs.
  • Talk to your colleagues.
  • Check yourself. Do not test the bounds of policy limits on items that can be taken inside.
  • Refocus. Keep an eye on the mission statement when depression over betrayal rears its ugly and pervasive head.
  • Do not isolate vulnerable staff. Otherwise, they are susceptible to smuggle.

We will not always know who is about to compromise security. But understanding the motivations outlined in TLC is a start. Even so, our safety depends on keeping contraband out of our facilities. This is consistent with the role of hidden hero.



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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