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Shut the back door on contraband and contaminated food

Get the right tools to help you screen deliveries, food and other items

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Carefully monitor high-traffic areas such as delivery docks, mailrooms and entrances used by contractors and facility operations with tools that include X-ray screening, trace detection and other technologies to keep out contraband and potential health hazards.


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By Philip J. Swift for Corrections1 BrandFocus

On October 24, 2020, deputies working at a Palm Beach County jail intercepted papers soaked with cocaine that a visitor was attempting to pass to inmates. During the investigation, it was determined that six pages had been soaked with a total of 29.5 grams of cocaine – with a black-market jail value of approximately $18,000.

Although, this is an all-too-common event in jails, detention centers and prisons worldwide, what made this event newsworthy was that the visitor was an attorney. As an attorney, this visitor was privileged with unfettered access to his client to ensure that his client’s constitutional rights were upheld, and he was expected to abide by his oath as an officer of the court.

This attorney’s betrayal of trust (and others like him) reminds me that we must always be diligent in our efforts to ensure the security of our facilities and the health of those within them, even if the risks they face, such as overdosing on cocaine, are of their own making.


During my tenure as the director of security for a large sheriff’s department, it became clear that whenever something moves through the secured perimeter, there is an opportunity for contraband to be introduced. Amongst my files you could find examples of every type of introduction scheme inmates could come up with, including compromised drug counselors, inmate work crew scams and even the use of a slingshot and a drone to deliver contraband. Not to mention several cases where inmates contracted diseases of unknown origin that should not have been found in a jail amongst long-term inmates.

Further, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need to reduce the risk of food contaminants, viruses, pathogens and other biologics that can cause mass medical emergencies or other incidents. When you consider the risk that pathogens or contaminants pose to jails and those in them, preventing introduction to these threats must be prioritized along with traditional forms of contraband.

In an environment that most outsiders would deem secure, the unfortunate truth is that it leaks like the proverbial sieve. The walls, fences, staff and locked doors that make up a jail often lull us into a false sense of security where we believe that if contraband is not being recovered or an outbreak has not occurred, then we must be addressing these risks effectively. However, what we usually discover is that if we are not recovering contraband, it means the inmates have found a new means of introducing and concealing it that we have yet to uncover.

Likewise with pathogens and contaminants. We cannot conclude that we are effectively limiting this risk because we have not yet detected them. Since pathogens, biologics and contaminants are generally invisible, they can be easily and unintentionally introduced to a facility – but they cannot and should not be overlooked. If there are any lessons worth passing on from my experiences, they are “You don’t know what you don’t know” and “What you don’t know can and will hurt you.”


How does one shut the back door on contraband like drugs and weapons in a complex environment? How can we hope to detect food containments and biological pathogens that are easily spread throughout a population?

The first step is to identify high-traffic areas where large amounts of people or supplies move in and out of the secured area. The delivery docks, mailrooms, primary entrances and entrances used by contractors and facility operations are prime candidates for careful inspection. The busier an area is, the more likely it is that contraband and potential contaminants will go undetected.

The second step is admitting that your current protocols and procedures may need updating. The final step is to reduce the risk these areas pose. Remember – once you are aware of a liability or risk, you are required to take reasonable precautions to address it to ensure the safety and security of the facility and those inside.


Now, with all this in mind, addressing vulnerabilities can be easily achieved with a handful of screening tools offered by Smiths Detection. The HI-SCAN 530C, HI-Scan 100100V-2is, IONSCAN, ACE-ID and Zephyr tools can be divided into three categories: X-ray screening, trace detection and food safety, to help you choose the right tool for the right vulnerabilities.

X-ray screening:

Historically, the key barriers to this technology have been the size of the item being scanned and the ability to move the unit easily when needed. The compact, mobile Smiths Detection HI-Scan 5030C is an ideal X-ray scanning device for screening individuals entering secure areas. The HI-Scan 5030C is easy to use and can be transported to various locations easily to inspect mail and smaller packages to discover contraband that can be seized and confirmed by a manual search.

When it comes to larger package and parcels, the HI-SCAN 100100V-2is is well-suited for mailroom and delivery docks. Designed for cargo screening, this X-ray machine provides both a horizontal and a vertical view for a thorough screening, reducing the need to examine items multiple times, open boxes or sift through food for manual inspection.

Trace detection:

Trace detection tools provide the ability to detect undesirable chemicals, such as those contained in narcotics and explosives, with a minute sample. Whether testing packages at screening points or testing unknown substances in the field, the tabletop IONSCAN 600 and the handheld ACE-ID offer mobility, accuracy ease of use, which make them ideal for a correctional environment. The portability and sensitivity of these devices means they are versatile enough to be used at entrances or during cell searches, as well as points of entry, to round out any screening program.

Food & facility safety:

The ability to ensure that the food products, areas, surfaces and individuals in your facility are free of bacteria, viruses and toxins that would otherwise go undetected should be a primary concern of all facilities in this post-COVID world. The speed in which a pathogen or contaminants can bring a facility to a screeching halt cannot be dismissed.

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A tool like the Zephyr biothreat detector can help identify the presence of foodborne pathogens like listeria, salmonella and E. coli on site, without the need to send samples out for costly laboratory testing.


Smiths Detection offers the Zephyr biothreat detector that uses CANARY detection technology to help identify the presence of foodborne pathogens. This tool provides the ability to rapidly detect pathogens including listeria, salmonella and E. coli on site, without the need to send samples out for costly laboratory testing. The specificity and speed of results makes this easy-to-use tool ideal for use in jails where transmission and infection rates can skyrocket quickly.

Every correctional facility needs basic supplies like food, office supplies and toilet paper, but these back-door deliveries can be overlooked as a potential source of facility compromise. Consider adopting technologies like those described above to help your staff quickly and accurately screen internal entrance points and deliveries to catch more contraband and promote health and safety inside your facility.

Visit Smiths Detection for more information.

Read Next: How to build a layered contraband detection strategy and why it matters (eBook)

About the author

Philip J. Swift is currently serving as a city marshal in the DFW area of Texas and has been a law enforcement officer since 1998. He holds a Ph.D. in forensic psychology, and his areas of research include behavioral learning theory, cognitive schemes, group psychology and historical trauma theory. He has several published works and regularly speaks locally and nationally regarding his research and expertise in law enforcement and criminal culture.