Monday, July 22, 2013

Contraband control: Weighing the costs and the benefits

By Joe Bouchard, Backgate Contributing Author

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



    1. I agree... stop accommodating these thugs. So they can continue to return to tdcj.

  2. From the Desk of BoBoTheBeaten:

    Higher pay is not the answer and should not always be the first response to remedy a problem. If a person’s first response is “Higher pay” then I am suspect of that person. Are you here for the right reasons? Are you willing to do anything to make that extra money you think you’re entitled to? If you think higher pay is the way to fix all problems then you are a person that shouldn’t be trusted with the public’s trust. Yes, it would nice to be paid more, but what we are paid is no surprise. When people go to work for TDCJ they already knew the pay scale. They were already aware of the long hours, the work conditions and personal sacrifices they would need to make. When people say “higher pay” it’s my belief that is just their justification for not doing their job or constantly taking short cuts. It is their rationale for bringing contraband into the units to make the money they think they should be making.

    “Employees in the public sector are often motivated by a deeper desire to make a difference, an ability to have an impact on public affairs, a sense of responsibility and integrity, and a reliance on intrinsic rewards as opposed to salary or job security (Brewer, Selden, & Facer, 2000; Crewson, 1997).”

    People who chose this line of work don’t have expectations of getting rich, but I believe are people who are concerned about their communities and public safety. I think that people who go into corrections and/or law enforcement have less inclination to get rich, but to make a difference.

    If something is important enough that it’s written in policy then just follow policy. If you take short cuts and something goes wrong they will use your failure to follow written policy as justification to discipline you. Your management doesn’t care about you, the convict doesn’t care about you and most of your colleagues don’t care about you. It is your responsibility to take care of yourself and you do that by following rules. People in prison didn’t follow rules and it caught up with them.

  3. Bo Bo great source quote on:

    "Employees are motivated by the desire to make a difference", but the first guy has a point, in order to recruit and screen out people who apply for TDCJ who aren't motivated by those factors, you have to increase the recruiting pool and keep the good ones.

    A person of ethical character will have a desire to take care of their family too. By paying CO's almost half the wages other Texas law enforcement agencies receive is not how you recruit and keep the good ones.

    Don't be so quick to justify TDCJ's low wages as not being a large contributor for the contraband. Unlike other states, TDCJ is able to cover up most of its issues. Texas due to its massive size has over 19 TV media markets, unlike California which has 5. Most people never hear how screwed up TDCJ is, including its own employees due to the size of the agency and the size of this state.

  4. So sorry, BoBoTheBeaten. Maybe this is what you wish. Most people working for TDC are not here for the protection of the offender or even the public. This is a job. A job that qualifies anyone, whether they are right for the job or not. Why would TDC hire a cutter (officer who cuts themself), or drug abuser, wife/husban beater? They just want someone to fill a position. Some of these young buckaroos grew up with these prisoners and were friends with them. We have people who come to work 1 or 2 days out of a 4 day work week (but it is ok as long as they bring in a doctors' slip). We know how easy that is to get on the internet. We have supervisors who get their (partner) hired just to be with them all day. Maybe if TDC paid more, they could get a better grade of officers to do the job that "even monkeys can do".
    Oh yeah, I beleive in why...It is changed every day.

  5. BobotheBeaten your stupid. I worked in that environment for 4 years in ad seg and med custody. The state don't pay enough for all the things one has to go through. The risk far out weighs the reward. Do you think I am going to put my life on the line for simple contraband or any contraband my mission was to leave work the same way I went. I wasn't there to make a difference I could of cared less due to the nature of the prison. I had to worry about dirty bosses who sided with inmates as well as higher rank who also would side with them. When I realized the mission statement was trash just like everything else I knew I had to do better. TDCJ was a joke Policy was only applied to those that where not the golden children. I could not believe I wasted 4 years of my life as a public servant by being locked up in prison working 12 hour shifts for little pay. I knew people that had degrees in Criminal Justice and was over looked on promotions because of the good ole boy system. SMH I am glad I went back to school and left.

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