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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 shank attacks tend to be fast and furious incidents with multiple stabs or slashes inflicted. Victims may not even realise that they are being attacked with an edged or sharp weapon until afterwards.

An impact weapon is any object that causes trauma and injury to the body through a striking action. Impact weapons are easily available and can be used without modification. Wooden brush handles are a favourite amongst prisoners, although in many prisons they have been replaced with hollow plastic versions. Chair and table legs are also used, where available. Examples of improvised impact weapons found in prisons include a pool ball inside a sock, a mug and orange inside a sock, chairs, table legs, pool cues, and batteries inside a sock. The prison-issue sock combined with a pool ball can be used as a flail-type weapon. But due to the elastic nature of the sock fabric, it can be unwieldy and unpredictable. A piece of fruit placed in a ceramic mug inside a sock is often used in the same manner.

A projectile weapon is one that propels an object manually or mechanically towards an intended target, and these are usually used in larger scale disturbances. While most projectiles are hand thrown, catapult and slingshots fashioned from braided latex search gloves have also been used. Easily made, slingshots are largely seen in cultures with slingshot traditions such as Middle Eastern countries. Ball bearings from motor workshops and even the roller balls from computer mice are often used as an ammunition projectile with these catapults and slings. Metal tack darts with a fabric tail coated with blood or excrement, used with a blowpipe, have also been discovered in the prison environment. Examples of these weapons include sling shots, catapults and blowpipes.

Flexible weapons often fall into multiple categories but will be treated as weapons of choking and strangulation in this instance. Flexible weapons can be made from any type of rope, cord or cable such as guitar strings, electrical cord, industrial rope, chain and braided strips of sheets or clothing. A short rigid piece of wood or metal can also be used as a garrotte to tighten the weapon mechanically from behind the victim. Examples include guitar strings, metal clothes hangers, electrical cords and laces. Improvised firearms found in prisons include “zip guns” and shotguns. Although firearms can also technically be placed in the projectile category, they will be placed in a category of their own in this instance. Improvised firearms are commonly known as “zip guns” and are associated with criminals inside and outside of prisons. They are usually, but not always, handguns. Often crude in design, they are predominantly single- shot weapons, as firing a round usually destroys the weapon and poses as much risk to the user as the intended victim.

Its construction consists of a barrel of steel tubing into which an ammunition cartridge is placed. The breach end is covered by an end cap in which there is a small hole to allow access to the primer cap of the ammunition round. A metal improvised firing pin (possibly a nail) is fitted into this hole. A spring or rubber band is then put in place to propel the firing pin at the primer cap of the pistol. The .22LR is the most commonly used round due to its low operating pressure, availability and the fact that it can easily be smuggled into prisons. Damage caused by zip guns can be substantial due to the lack of rifling in the barrel which causes the round to tumble as it hits the body. Improvised prison shotguns are often constructed from two pieces of steel pipe of different diameters, a pipe nipple and pipe cap. The shotgun shell is inserted into the base of the small pipe, which is then inserted into the larger diameter pipe that has an improvised firing pin at its cap end. The weapon is fired by aggressively slamming the smaller pipe against the firing pin.


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