How jail chaplins can become accidental drug mules

Chaplains are not only a potential source for contraband, they may also unwittingly move contraband from place to place


In my last article, I focused on three small, everyday items attorneys may unintentionally pass along to prisoners in the course of business that is definitely contraband in our world. Today I will talk about the contraband clergy or chaplains may unknowingly travel with. Before I am struck by a bolt of lightning as I type on this early Sunday morning, I am going to reaffirm that in this series I am referring to unintentional delivery of contraband.

In many jails, chaplains are a regular part of daily operations. Depending on the facility, they may even have keys to move themselves around from one housing unit to another to help reduce the demand put on corrections staff. During the course of spreading the word of faith, chaplains often hand out various religious publications. These publications may be bound with staples at the fold. They may also be handing out literature that has staples or that may have used paperclips to organize the handouts.

Chaplains also take a lot of notes with ink pens. In part one, we discussed some of our concerns with these items, so I won’t go into detail on why we don’t want them being passed to our prisoners. I will give my opinion on a good preventative tool: Before any non-correctional officer has access to prisoners, they should go through an orientation that includes what to do and what not to do, what prisoners are allowed to have and what they forbidden to have. Also, facilities should have someone that approves all handouts in advance.

I hate to shock any of you, but prisoners tend to be tricky and dishonest. They will prey upon the goodwill of our chaplains and trick them into being contraband mules. Not the type of mule moving large amounts of drugs from Mexico to the U.S. that we are familiar with, but the ones that unknowingly move a small weapon or a small amount of drugs from one cell or housing unit to another. The process used is simple: Placing contraband inside bibles, in newspapers, between the pages of publications and slid down the spine of books, and then asking the chaplain to be so kind as to give them to a friend in another cell. The kind-hearted chaplain now has become a contraband mule and thought they were just being nice by helping out a prisoner that was down on their luck.

We as corrections officers must remember that we are trained to be suspicious of everything in our facilities. Our training includes how to search for things that do not belong. We can do a lot to make our jobs easier by sharing our training and years of knowledge with those that pass through our doors to help the prisoners. Spending a few minutes explaining how sneaky prisoners can be, giving them insight of what to look for and just helping them understand how the little things they may take for granted can end up causing harm to other prisoners and, even worse, correctional staff, including themselves.

Prisoners have more than enough time to seek out the weakest link. In my years of experience, it is often the nice guy, the easy-going gal, and the staff members that are lacking the attention of security that the prisoners target when they decide to make their move and attack someone for an escape attempt. Escapes are a crime of opportunity and the opportunity is more likely to occur when someone puts their guard down. If a prisoner sees the same staff regularly put their guard down, they will base their plan around that staff member. Not controlling contraband and properly training our outside staffers thinking it will never happen here is as crazy as thinking the losing team will win after the game has ended.

Train your chaplains to never pass items directly from prisoner to prisoner. Teach them what contraband is and to always look for contraband. Make sure they know what prisoners are looking for when planning an escape. If your chaplains have keys to move about freely, train them on key control and instruct that they should never enter an area without first reporting to correctional staff. Make sure your facility has rules in place that dictate what is allowed to be passed by chaplains and make sure all your staff knows those rules and adheres to them. There is no room in jails or prisons for laziness or ignorance from anyone. Those actions get people hurt or killed.

Be vigilant and continue to pass on your experience to others.  

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