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Remember basics during the contraband search

If these tips seem remedial for corrections veterans, please consider that we all make mistakes

Let’s think about one of the fundamental safety tactics in corrections — the search for contraband.

You start the search, something that you have done what seems like a million times. Is it all how it should be? Do you remember the basic safety precautions of the search? Here are a few reminder tips for veterans and newbies alike:

• Remember your surroundings. Are you searching in an area that is full of prisoners?

• Inform your colleagues of your location and that you are searching.

• Look at the dynamics. Are there overt signs of interest by nearby prisoners?

• Think of a safe exit in case you uncover something that might cause an assault by an enterprising or desperate prisoner.

• Treat all surfaces as though there is an infectious material present. Obviously, we cannot see dangerous microbes. As base as it sounds, it’s not out of the question to consider that a malicious person might have smeared feces on the surface of areas to be searched in order to degrade and infect. Basic caution is not paranoia.

• Use gloves. This is a simple, yet effective way to administer a barrier between you and disease. Gloves should be plentiful and changed as needed. No one, no matter their work persona, is impervious to infection.

• Look before you touch. What you do not see can hurt you. Groping around blindly is a horrible way to find a sharp item. Use a pen or other object to probe into tight places such as the underside of a shelf. The binding from a discarded book can be used to feel in crevices.

• Don’t forget the basic tools. If it is too dark to see, use a flashlight. Use a mirror to increase visibility in obscured areas. Use a hand held metal detector as needed. These are effective and common tools that allow for a more thorough search. Most facilities have these and are typically available at the bubble, the tool room, or at the control center.

• Beware of non-metal hazards. It does not have to be metal in order to puncture the skin. Sharpened plastic has as much potential to puncture and infect as does steel.

• Don’t rush or take short cuts. Proper contraband searches take time to do correctly. A hastily performed job could result in a lifetime of infection. Take your time. It’s worth it.

If these tips seem remedial for corrections veterans, please consider that we all make mistakes. Often, we forget the fundamentals as we perform what has become routine. Veterans and newbies alike benefit from reviewing basic search precautions. Hazards do not pay attention to seniority or experience.

Joe Bouchard worked in a maximum correctional facility for 25 years and is now retired. He continues to write and present on many corrections topics. He is the former editor of The Correctional Trainer. Bouchard has been an instructor of corrections and criminal justice since 1999. He currently teaches at Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College. Bouchard also has online writing clips at He is also the author of three corrections books for LRP publications and 10 books for IACTP’s series of training exercises books. Order now.

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