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Who should ask ‘What the Hell is in that Cell?’
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 09/19/2016

Officer incident


It takes a village to raise a child, according to the proverb. In that spirit, I believe that it takes a team to keep everyone safe. This applies, without a doubt, to contraband control. Corrections is interconnected and requires cooperation from all staff to run optimally. And contraband is a persistent problem.

The fundamental idea of contraband control is to remove dangerous items from circulation. Also, we confiscate things that are not obviously dangerous, but are tradeable. This leads to a safer facility with fewer weapons and moves toward a more level playing field. This is possible because we reduce opportunities for prisoners to gain power over others through trade of items for goods and services. This is a necessary corrections function. After all, it is often a seller’s market. Services acquired by a contrabandist strengthen his or her economic power.

That is the “what” of that part of the safety operations. Shouldn’t we consider “who” is involved? In other words, who should ask ‘what the hell is in that cell?’

It takes a village to raise a child, according to the proverb. In that spirit, I believe that it takes a team to keep everyone safe. This applies, without a doubt, to contraband control. Corrections is interconnected and requires cooperation from all staff to run optimally.

Custody staff are the obvious contraband control champions. They are trained to find and remove bootleg. They understand firsthand the dangers of weapons and unauthorized trade, as well as the benefits of contraband control. However, support staff offer many talents that buttress the efforts of corrections officers. When we overlook the assistance of support staff, we undermine the full potential of safety and contraband control.

There are many varieties of support staff. Among them are teachers, counselors, social workers, administrative staff and athletic directors. In addition there are librarians, health care staff, maintenance staff, clerical staff and food service workers.

Support staff in general see prisoners interact from a non-custody perspective. In fact, offenders might act less careful around non-custody staff because they are not normally uniformed. In this case, non-custody staff can build a sort of prosopography through quiet, unobtrusive observation.

Housing unit staff see the movers and shakers in each unit. They have information at their fingertips about spending, acquisition, and contacts from the outside world. They can monitor associations within the unit and know prisoner’s temperament. Housing unit staff such as counselors and Resident Unit Managers know how offender follow (or do not follow) rules. They have an idea of the overt and covert prisoner trouble makers in residence.

Administrative staff are useful in the contraband control process in that they facilitate the feeding of the information machine by other staff. They allow a proper flow and ensure that those who need the information receive it. They assess the safety needs of the facility and allow for proper input and judicious dissemination of information. They also can assure that crucial data recorded for future use.

All of this can raise the search from basic serendipity to a bona fide system. Certainly, intuition does uncover schemes. But assistance from support staff gives a better edge to the search. There is great utility in observations and theories offered by non-custody staff.

What we do is important. But by adding more staff to the operations, we can greatly enhance security. That is why the who is important. Any corrections staff, no matter how removed from the strict custodial duties, is a part of the contraband control team. In the end, our successes, like our efforts are for everyone.

Joe Bouchard is a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections and a collaborator with The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). He is also the author of “IACTP’s Corrections Icebreakers: The Bouchard 101, 2014”. The installments in this series include his opinions. The agency for which he works is not in any way responsible for the content or accuracy of this material, and the views are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the agency. While some material is influenced by other works, all of the icebreakers have been developed by Joe Bouchard.

Visit the Joe Bouchard page

Other articles by Bouchard:


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