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In the United States, citizens are protected from illegal search and seizures thanks to the 4th amendment of the Constitution. Unfortunately, those protections aren’t as strong as they once were because of laws like The Patriot Act, but that is a subject for another day.
When you go to prison, you lose all of your Constitutional rights, with the exception of the Freedom of Religion, as that right has been fought for in the courts and granted by the Supreme Court of the United States.
When you are in prison you aren’t protected by the 4th amendment, that means that prison guards can walk into your cell at any time during the day or night and completely toss your cell with the goal of finding contraband.
This leads us to today’s blog post: how often do prison guards search inmate cells?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
When officers are searching an inmate’s cell, they are looking for what they call “contraband.” This can be anything from a t-shirt that’s not listed on the inmate’s personal property list to tobacco products.
Contraband is any item that an inmate isn’t allowed to have inside a prison, which means that it isn’t issued by the state or can’t be purchased from the canteen. Contraband can also be items that an inmate traded for but didn’t legally buy because every property item (clothing, electronics, etc.) is documented by the prison property coordinator.
If your personal property list says you have purchased two t-shirts and you have three in your locker, one of those shirts is contraband and will be taken away from you. Contraband can also be something that isn’t being used as intended. For example, a packaging box for pop tarts was the perfect size to hold stamps and pens, but that’s not its intended use. So, if you have a pop tart box holding anything except pop tarts, it’s contraband and will be taken.
Another good example of contraband is a broken razor. We were able to purchase single-blade anti-shank razors from the canteen, but if it wasn’t intact in your locker, it was contraband.
When an officer searches your cell, you are required to leave the room and wait outside. While wearing gloves, the officer will bring a list of the inmate’s personal property and empty every part of the inmate’s locker, toss the mattress, and go through every inch of the cell to search for hiding spots.
Depending on the officer, all of the inmate’s property can end up piled in the middle of the room when they are done searching, and it is the inmate’s responsibility to clean up and put everything back in its place.
If you are found with contraband, you will receive a conduct violation. And, depending on what they find, the inmate could end up in the hole.
Oh, and to answer today’s question, officers can search an inmate’s cell as often as they want to. As a rule, inmates get searched at least once per quarter, but sometimes it could happen as often as once a week. It really just depends on the facility.
In Missouri, there was a special tactical unit that inmates called “The Goon Squad,” but I never found out what their official name was. This special group of officers wore black jumpsuits, helmets, and tactical gloves, and once a year, they would surprise the inmates on camp by coming to search the cells.
You never knew when they were coming, but when they did it was the worst day of the year. These “officers” would literally go into the cells and destroy everything they could find with the excuse that they were “looking for drugs.”
The three times I experienced the “Goon Squad” were my worst three days in prison. When you are a prisoner, everything is taken from you. So, the few things that you do manage to acquire while you are inside are incredibly important. It doesn’t matter if it was just a t-shirt or a book, having your personal items destroyed is heartbreaking.
I’m sure other states and the feds have some kind of “Goon Squad” that they use in their facilities, but the public won’t be able to find any information about that.
Do you think an inmate’s property should be respected? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Fourth Amendment - Prison Cells: Is There A Right to Privacy? https://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6436&context=jclc The Secret World Of investigating Prison Deaths In Missouri https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/the-secret-world-of-investigating-prison-deaths-in-missouri/article_c77ed086-72ce-5acf-8228-99b4cb5eea37.html
Natalie earned her Bachelors degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and has worked in television and radio during her career. When she was a 19-year-old sophomore at KU, she got her first on-air job as a sports reporter for a CBS-TV affiliate. In 2013, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the possession and production of marijuana. She was released in 2017. We've kept her last name off of our website so that she does not experience any professional hardship for her contributions.
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