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Providing Or Possessing Contraband In Federal Prison

By Spodek Law Group | October 18, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 19, 2023)

Last Updated on: 19th October 2023, 07:26 pm


Providing or Possessing Contraband in Federal Prison

Getting caught with contraband in federal prison can land you in a heap of trouble. Contraband is basically any item that prisoners are prohibited from having under prison rules and regulations. This article will break down the laws against possessing contraband, what kind of items are considered contraband, the penalties you may face, and some possible defenses.

Laws Against Contraband

There are a few main laws that make it illegal to provide or possess contraband in federal prison:

  • 18 U.S.C. §.
  • 28 C.F.R. § 6.1 – this is a regulation that gives federal prisons the authority to implement their own rules prohibiting certain items as contraband.
  • Individual facility policies – each federal prison has its own policies regarding what is and isn’t allowed as contraband.

So basically, the federal law sets the overall rules against contraband, but each prison can also specify prohibited items in their facility policies. You have to follow both the federal law and the prison’s policies.

What is Considered Contraband?

The federal law defines two kinds of contraband:

  1. Hard contraband – this refers to any object that threatens the order, discipline, or security of the prison, or the life, health, or safety of an individual. Examples include:
    • Weapons
    • Ammunition
    • Explosives
    • Drugs
    • Intoxicants (alcohol)
  2. Soft contraband – this refers to items that aren’t necessarily dangerous, but are still prohibited by prison policy. Examples include:
    • Excess food or clothing
    • Pornography
    • Cigarettes
    • Electronics like cell phones
    • Unauthorized money or checks

Different prisons may have different definitions of soft contraband based on their facility policies. So something considered contraband in one federal prison may be allowed in another. You need to check the policies for the specific facility you’re in.

Penalties for Possessing Contraband

If you’re caught with prohibited contraband, you’re looking at some pretty harsh penalties:

  • Having a weapon, ammunition, explosives, or a tool to escape – you can get up to 20 more years added to your prison sentence for this “hard contraband.”
  • Having drugs or alcohol – you can get up to 5 more years added if you have a small amount for personal use, up to 10 more years if you have a larger amount, and up to life in prison if you have a very large quantity meant for distribution.
  • Having soft contraband – you can get up to 1 more year added to your prison sentence.
  • If someone dies as a result of you having contraband, you can get a life sentence.

In addition to more prison time, you may also face disciplinary action within the prison, like being put in solitary confinement or losing privileges. Let’s just say it’s not worth it to mess around with prohibited items!

Defenses and Challenges

If you’ve been accused of possessing contraband, there are a few ways you can challenge the charges:

  • You didn’t know it was there – If someone planted contraband on you or you ended up with it by accident, you can argue you didn’t intentionally possess it.
  • The item isn’t actually contraband – You may be able to argue that the item you had doesn’t actually fit the definition of contraband under the law or prison policies.
  • The policy against the item is unreasonable – In some cases, you could potentially claim a prison policy banning a certain item is arbitrary, doesn’t serve a legitimate purpose, and violates your rights.
  • Illegal search – If guards searched you illegally and that’s how they found the contraband, the evidence may get thrown out.

Of course, it’s very hard to beat a contraband charge. The best defense is doing everything you can to avoid having prohibited items in the first place. But if you do get accused, an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer may be able to help negotiate a plea deal or get the charges reduced or dismissed.

Avoiding Contraband Trouble

Here are some tips to steer clear of contraband issues in federal prison:

  • Know the rules – be familiar with the federal law, prison policies, and the list of prohibited items.
  • Do thorough searches – check all your belongings and your person thoroughly for prohibited items before going into the prison.
  • Don’t accept gifts or favors from other inmates since they could include contraband.
  • Be aware of your surroundings – contraband is often hidden in common areas accessible to multiple inmates.
  • Report violations – if you become aware of contraband in the prison, report it to guards.
  • Keep to yourself – avoid problematic inmates who may try to get you involved with contraband activities.

Following the rules and keeping your head down is key to getting through federal prison time without tacking more years onto your sentence. Don’t let contraband land you in deeper trouble!


18 U.S.C. § 1791 – Providing or possessing contraband in prison

28 C.F.R. § 6.1 – Prohibited Activities of Bureau of Prisons Inmates

U.S. Sentencing Guidelines on Contraband Offenses

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