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Take the Contraband Test
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 10/31/2016

Inmate-jail The following is an installment in "The Bouchard 101", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.

Contraband control has always been and will remain a fundamental concern of corrections professionals. In order to keep staff, offenders, and the public safe, it is imperative that we mitigate the ill effects of illicit trading. Quite simply, contraband control equals safety.

I believe that contraband control is important subject matter for pre-professionals. I incorporate that in the curriculum for CJC 102 Correctional Institutions and Facilities, a course that I teach for Gogebic Community College.

The questions below are based on information from the book Wake Up and Smell the Contraband 2nd edition (LRP Publications 2005). They consist of practical and theoretical questions about controlling contraband. Just for fun, try your hand at the 35 true or false questions:

# Statement True or False
1 The American Heritage Dictionary defines contraband as goods prohibited by law from being imported or exported…smuggled goods.
2 Goods and services are contraband. For example, the promise of making a tattoo is a conspiracy to use contraband.
3 Contraband equals power. It is precious to prisoners. In a prison setting everything is for sale or barter.
4 Contraband equals power but it never draws respect from other inmates.
5 When a formerly influential trader becomes less powerful, they are very likely to be challenged by ambitious prisoners.
6 The struggle of contraband control is not always staff versus prisoners. It is also prisoner versus prisoner.
7 There are three main danger categories of contraband. They are physical dangers, legal dangers, and professional humiliation.
8 Safety is never an important issue to inmates.
9 Through contraband, prisoners can command sexual favors, arrange assaults on staff and other prisoners, trick staff into uneven rule enforcement, or orchestrate disruptions, riots and murders.
10 Department staff are legally obliged to keep everyone as safe as possible.
11 Contraband would be of less worth if it were not mobile.
12 Illicit goods never move from facility to facility. Mobility ends at the gates.
13 Contraband moves with the aid of the diversion. The goods can change hands in close proximity of staff while a third party creates a disturbance.
14 Some prisoners may hide a few forbidden items on their person during the standard pat search. The goods are of very different values to the prisoner. The primary contraband, or the most valuable item, is positioned in a more elusive spot.
15 Creative use and scarcity dictate value.
16 Despite what may be seen in the movies, doorjambs can never be compromised, even if the gum or tape is “properly” applied.
17 There are at least 5 different mercantile paradigms; Monopolist, Oligopolist, Multinational, Inside Trader, and Chaotic.
18 In the prison economy, the Monopolist dominates all trade in an area.
19 Oligopolist – This is an inmate who has a handful of competitors. No single inmate in this paradigm has the undisputed advantage or larger share of the market.
20 Chaotic – This type of trader is a good planner and is never impulsive or conspicuous.
21 The law vendor sells legal advice or services-such as lawsuits, grievances, assistance in fighting misconduct reports, or strategies in how to deal with staff.
22 Communications Seller may sell telephone time or PIN numbers on telephone cards. Individuals may dominate the phone to command a fee from others for its use.
23 Knowing why prisoners adopt an unobtrusive persona may lead to important discoveries.
24 The bookie rents or sells book to others. Often, the books were illegally obtained from the institutional library.
25 Survivalist - This prisoner operates below the radar in order to blend in. They do not wish to stand out because they need anonymity to survive.
26 Invisible leaders keep undercover to protect their ambitions. Typically, they orchestrate loud diversions from overt prisoners, convincing them to absorb a misconduct report.
27 Invisible soldier-These inmates will do dangerous jobs that need stealth. If they are free-lance soldiers, they follow orders for remuneration.
28 All of us in corrections communicate well.
29 On the face of it, it seems that corrections staff deal with just one prisoner at a time. But, usually there are many more. There are often hidden participants.
30 There are many activities and associations that require special monitoring. Since many of those activities may involve rule violations or illicit trade, prisoners will generally go to great lengths to camouflage all of the players involved.
31 When you find evidence of one prisoner's participation in a major entrepreneurial enterprise, it is very likely that many more prisoners are involved.
32 Assisting in intelligence gathering is never easy.
33 They are five groups of benefits to contraband control: Security, Staff unity, Prisoner rehabilitation, Prisoner services, and The taxpayer.
34 Contraband control between areas builds confidence and respect. This eliminates the ‘us versus them’ mentality between staff.
35 Custody staff become vested in security-minded educators. Because they can feel more akin to officer-friendly teachers, custody staff may make extra rounds in the school.


Not all contraband control questions are the same. Most of us are most comfortable in solving problems with tangible elements. Others excel in puzzles with a theoretical base. Optimally, despite diametrically opposed philosophies and emphases, a contraband control team should feature a pragmatist and a theorist. And mixed tests like this help round the professional team.

Note: every 4th statement in this test is “false”.


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.

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