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Staff As a Conduit for Contraband: Developing and Testing Key Assumptions of Professional Boundary Violations in Prison

NCJ Number
Deviant Behavior Volume: Online Dated: May 2024
Date Published
May 2024

In this article, the authors examine prison staff motivations for smuggling contraband into their facilities and discuss the implications of their findings for future research, policy, and practice.


The breach of professional boundaries by correctional staff involves various transgressive behaviors and improper relationships with incarcerated individuals. Extant literature has focused on identifying and measuring such behaviors using non-probability samples of correctional officers and formerly incarcerated individuals from single jurisdictions. This research aims to build on this body of work by exploring how key measures related to a specific type of boundary violations – staff involvement in introducing contraband – affects the level of contraband in 301 prisons across six states. The authors investigate three key assumptions about staff motivations for smuggling contraband into their facilities. Some motivations, such as (1) inappropriate relationships with residents and (2) financial gains, tend to be premediated while others, like (3) the lack of accountability and oversight at work, can create opportunistic circumstances that affect staff motivations. The results from negative binomial regression show modest support for each assumption tested in explaining the levels of contraband drugs and cellphones while accounting for relevant prison characteristics. The authors conclude by delving into the implications of their findings for research, policy, and practice. (Published Abstract Provided)

Date Published: May 1, 2024