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Inmate Weapons: In the Jailhouse Now

Inmate Weapons: In the Jailhouse Now

A toothbrush and ballpoint pen embedded with disposable razor blades

Ed Byrne / SWAT Digest

Prison violence is global, with prison authorities waging a constant battle to deny inmates access to improvised weapons. Despite the most stringent measures, weapons are still found often in the most unlikely places, made from even more unlikely materials. Whether stolen from factories, kitchens, workshops, art classes, pried from cell fittings or simply from articles left unattended, inmates with time on their hands, as well as exposure to the experience and knowledge of other prisoners, are able to use this material to produce some very effective weapons.

An improvised weapon is an object modified or used in a manner other than its intended original purpose, to inflict injury or death. It is therefore important for prison staff who are likely to come into contact with improvised weapons to recognise the various weapon types (some fall into more than one category). Improvised weapon groups include edged and sharp weapons, impact weapons, projectile weapons, flexible weapons, firearms, improvised explosive devices and liquid weapons.

Examples of edged and sharp improvised weapons found in prisons include a toothbrush with embedded blades or a sharpened end, a ball point pen with embedded blades, metal can lids, metal cut-offs, wooden spikes, craft blades, large screws or nails, glass shards, sharpened plastic prison cutlery, metal cutlery from the staff canteen, metal kitchen ladles, metal ring spikes from fire extinguishers, and syringes.

An edged or sharp weapon is any object that can be used to pierce or puncture the skin. Known in prison slang as “shivs”, “shanks” or “shibs”, they can be manufactured from almost any solid material that can be filed down to a point or to take an edge. The term “shank” originated from the steel shank that ran the length of the bottom of prison-issue boots. This was removed and the metal filed to create a lethal device. Most prisoners no longer wear footwear with metal shanks but the name has remained. “Shiv” is a generic term that covers all types of edged and pointed weapons in a prison environment, and originates from the Romany word “chiv”. Another lesser- known Scottish term is “chib”, which means “to slash or stab with a sharp weapon”.

The most common and easily available raw materials for “shanks” are plastic toothbrush handles, prison-issue plastic cutlery or plastic ballpoint pen shafts, cutlery or plastic ballpoint pen shafts, which can easily be filed to a point or melted and embedded with blades removed from disposable razors. Plastic and Perspex also have the advantage of being non-metallic, which means that they can escape metal detectors. Blades from disposable plastic razors are also used if available in the prison environment, but attempts to eliminate potential weapon sources have included the issuance of electric razors to prisoners, and the development of a toothbrush that has no handle but fits on to the index finger.

The grip of these improvised weapons is usually constructed from tape, sandpaper or fabric, which has the advantage of absorbing blood from wounds and decreasing the risk of the assailant’s hand slipping on to the blade. Cord or fabric is also used to attach the weapon to the assailant’s hand to prevent disarmament. Metal cutlery from staff canteens finds its way into circulation most commonly from trusted prisoners who pass them on for favours or out of fear. Syringes from intravenous drug users can also be used, although they are a rare and highly valuable commodity in prisons. They are often used in escape attempts while on escorts.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 2 years ago


    The authorities need to be more vigilant in such matters. The inmates should not be allowed to access not even the most simple tool. If they keep on neglecting security needs, one day they would find their inmates with latest AR15 accessories.

  • Dcp_0435_max50


    about 4 years ago


    The biggest problem is the lack of penalties. In our facility, recently 1 inmate smuggled in drugs and 4 inmates took part in using those drugs. However, if we're lucky the inmate that smuggled them in will be charged. But I'm not holding my breath.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    about 4 years ago


    am c/o and inmates they make all kinds of things , they have all the time i found a toothbrush and it was a jail knife .

  • Crater_lake_2009_3_max50


    about 4 years ago


    What do they expect...they give them every luxury of home then they are surprised they take razors out of their ART classes? OMGOSH, what get some ppl with brains running those places and quit treating the prisoners with kid gloves dammit when will u get it thru your heads they are there for a reason

  • Photo_00002_max50


    about 4 years ago


    Very infomative.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    If only inmates could use all of the free time they have for good instead of bad.

  • Kimber_ultra_cdp_max50


    over 4 years ago


    It always starts with the arresting officer(s) doing a THOROUGH frisk and pat down once the perp is arrested. Then they are pat down again, once in the booking department. Would it seem unreasonable to do a "cavity search" at this time ? I don't think so esp. if the perp had weapons or anything unusual in their clothes or on or in their person. It's BEST to always have 2 or more officers at ALL times present when doing any searching of the perp or the cell. Expect that the other inmates are going to try to cause a distraction to give the "newbie" time to hide / dispose of anything they need to.

    Finally: DOCUMENT ! DOCUMENT !! and DOCUMENT !!! If the perps lawyer can get the original arresting charge thrown out in court, you might be able to bring a charge for attempting to bring contraband into the jail. That is if, you can prove that they had a weapon such as a small "shiv" hidden in their body, on their body, or hidden some other means. But it doesn't do any good if this item (s) isn't documented in words in a Report signed by both officers, photos and video if possible.

    It never hurts to look in the most unusual places: a tongue can hold up something in their mouth. A single edge razor blade can easily be hidden in medium to long hair. A long and thin black colored shank can be concealed in black "dread - locks". If an inmate is coming from prison to a local county jail, many times they bring a box or suitcase of their items. Again, two officers need to open and look through this container.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago



  • Green-lantern-batman1_max50


    over 4 years ago


    We recently had a prisoner stick the sharpened end of a toothbrush into his penis just to go to the hospital.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 4 years ago


    you can use anything from a garbage bag meltted down and rolled till its harden to paper rolled being wet and rolled again till harden .. Anything an inmate gets his hands on can turn to a wepon

  • Pug_max600_max50


    over 4 years ago


    Dental floss can be used to saw off a adversary's throat.

  • Img_0383_max50


    over 4 years ago


    ive done time working in corrections and i have seen things made into weapons that i never would of ever thought could be weapons

  • D_a_badge


    over 4 years ago


    Until we take everything away from them, we'll always have this problem.

  • Me_max50


    over 4 years ago


    There is no way to stop this so we need to learn the risks to better protect ourselves. 99% of all things can be made into a weapon somehow. Stay educated to stay safe

  • Michigan_20sheriff7_max50


    over 4 years ago


    I've seen some pretty amazing improvisation from guys with nothing but time on their hands. Good info!

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