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Gross! Wash Your Hands!
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 04/30/2018

Washinghands The following is an installment in "Icebreakers 101 - Volume IX: UNDAMMING THE ICE", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.

Theories and concepts are important. They allow us to look at models in order to understand commonalities in circumstantial differences. For example, learning the basics of changing a flat tire can be adapted for all sorts of occurrences. The key is to use the right principles in all sorts of weather. However, we should caution on certain circumstances, like changing a tire on an incline. It may seem like stating the obvious. However, once stated, the cautionary tale for special circumstances is in the mind of the future practitioner.

We can also, for example talk in broad terms about the benefits of contraband control. While it is important to see the many group impacted by good searches, what about the pitfalls? Is a talk about contraband control complete without addressing the ubiquity of potentially infectious materials?
  1. Find three volunteers in the classroom. Ask if they are shy or easily embarrassed. If they answer ‘no’, then they should be useful volunteers for the purposes of this icebreaker.
  2. Pair them each with one recorder.
  3. Direct all initial volunteers to tell the recorders everything they did since waking up. It is important to be as detailed as possible.
  4. In turn, each recorder writes the daily doings on the board.
  5. The facilitator asks if anyone was wearing gloves during these acts.
  6. With a red marker or something contrasting the text on the board, the instructor asks if each act is potentially infections. For example, turning a door know with a bare palm could be potentially infectious.
  7. Now, distribute your agency’s policy directive regarding infectious materials.
  8. Note to students – Caution! It is best to look rather than feel when searching or contraband. Many experienced corrections staff know of someone who searched with hands rather than eyes and was poked with a sharp object.
  9. Using a mirror on a telescoping handle, demonstrate how to look for contraband under a table without touching the search area.
And now that the special topic of infection is in the minds of students, an airborne/bloodborne pathogens module can commence. In the event the facilitator wishes to instill some broad considerations about the benefits of contraband control, the article that follows can be distributed.

The many benefits of contraband control

When a major contraband item is found, there is one less bargaining tool or weapon taken out of the loop. But, that is just one benefit of the process. There is a conceptual dimension. We don’t usually look at the other gains that effective control of illicit barter produces.

They are not as obvious as removing a dangerous item from the playing field. They can be grouped into five categories. They are benefits to security, staff unity, prisoner rehabilitation, services, and to the taxpayer. All of the following are possible, often ignored effects of contraband control.

Security. Of course, effective contraband control keeps one group of prisoners from gaining primacy relative to others. Otherwise, they may be in an optimal position to terrorize staff and other prisoners. It also:
  • Limits other inmate challenges to staff.
  • Exposes other contraband trading areas.
  • Disrupts staff complacency.
  • Enhances the base of knowledge of contraband tricks.
  • Unmasks large illicit trading schemes. What you find may lead to searches which may uncover more contraband.
  • May stop ‘dirty’ staff from improper relations and gift exchanges.
  • Dissuades potentially unscrupulous staff from participating in the illegal trading
  • Produces a less stressful workplace. This compound, as less worried employees are more effective, and therefore, more vigilant.
Staff Unity. Contraband control between areas builds confidence and respect. This eliminates the ‘us versus them’ mentality between staff. Therefore, we are less likely to be our own worst enemy. It also functions as a sort of cross training. For example, programs staff become exposed to a daily custody concern, and custody staff may enhance a program by removing contraband from the area. It strengthens both sides of the equation and builds professional empathy. This may lead to a friendlier place to work, as less entrenched cliques tend to dissolve under these circumstances. The diminished interdepartmental strife that results lowers stress. And our pride of a well-run facility that proactively seeks contraband builds all areas. This newfound admiration may further strengthen, as the communications network becomes more potent. Unity is conducive for a fully activated intelligence-gathering network for the goods of the institution. Shared projects such as contraband control achieve these things. Progressively good staff relations result in a favorable domino effect.

Prisoner rehabilitation. How can elimination of bootleg help prisoners become better citizens? If you think that some prisoner behavior without contraband is not good, imagine if contraband squabbles are added to the formula. Contraband lords promote fear among other prisoners. Therefore, the more contraband struggles that are present, more prisoners will form counter-alliances and obtain weapons for protection. So, the elimination of bootleg removes some reason to misbehave. And marginal prisoners may not start down the path of illicit trade if the opportunities are not so easily seen. Perhaps some prisoners in a more controlled environment may not acquire even some vices. Above all, it fulfills part of many mission statements, safety to residents.

Service enhancement. Prisoner trade encumbers services. Elimination of this trade gives opportunity to improve all work areas. Areas that are swept clean of contraband will benefit from focus of their original function. Once the process becomes habit rather than the new mode of operation, progressive results will show. Examples of areas that can refine under less contraband pressure are education, food service, health service, prisoner store, vocational education, and other programs.

Taxpayer.We should never forget the taxpayer. We offer two gifts to our patrons when we successfully hunt for contraband. They are assurances and fiscal responsibility. Under the category of assurances, we facilitate public trust toward the department and the profession. We are less likely to be viewed unfavorably if there are fewer stories of uncontrolled bootleg. With that is diminished staff corruption. The public wants us to control ourselves and the environment of the prison. Contraband control does those two things. No news is good news.

We also show our fiscal responsibility in this process. Because of high training and recruitment costs, staff retention is always expensive. Yet, in the safer and positive work environment that comes from successful contraband control, staff turnover is lessened. In a more conceptual sense, this also produces professionally satisfied staff. Generally, they become healthier, which save tax dollars. Our vigilance in the war against barter leads to a more fulfilled, healthy professional that is more vested in corrections. Of course, not all of these benefits will necessarily be realized. But, that is reality. And, some of which is actually achieved will never be acknowledged. Not all staff will maintain optimism in the face of the daily task of controlling contraband. Further, some benefits are contingent on others happening. Yet, all of the above is possible. Consider all of the potential good that can be achieved by simple contraband control.

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” and "Operation Icebreakers: Shooting for Excellence" among others. 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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