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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

An IED is an explosive device manufactured from improvised materials. The degree of sophistication depends largely upon the expertise of the maker and the materials available. However, prison-made devices tend to be crude in design, as IEDs fall largely in the domain of terrorist, subversive and paramilitary organisations or specialist military units. If powerful explosives are required for a concerted escape attempt, they will most likely be commercial or military grade and smuggled into the prison. But the majority of ordinary criminals do not have the expertise necessary to make or use such weapons. However, in the aftermath of 11 September 2001, a new breed of prisoner entered the system. This new category of prisoner is likely to be familiar with IED devices and, together with the “suicide factor”, poses additional risks to staff and prison security.

Examples of improvised liquid weapons include sugar and boiling water, cleaning fluids and accelerants/ inflammables. Liquids are usually used as a distraction before an attack, but are highly dangerous in their own right as they can inflict serious injury and death. The first attacker will often “soften up” the victim with a liquid attack by blinding or scalding him before the next follows up with a weapon to engage the victim. A burn caused by boiling water can cause shock, but attacks with boiling water laced with sugar, soap, eggs or other viscous materials, as is usually the case in the prison environment, has a “napalm effect” in that it sticks to the skin, causing more serious injury. The corrosive nature of cleaning fluids such as bleaches and cleansers make them another favourite for liquid attacks in prisons, along with accelerants (such as petrol or alcohol) that are used to intensify the fire. Whilst not a mainstream prison weapon, these do appear in large-scale prison riots in the form of Molotov cocktails and petrol bombs.

Detection aims to remove weapons from circulation before they are used, and takes the form of human or electronic search measures. Detection procedures not only require effective security awareness and search policies, but they also need to be proactive rather than reactive. The two main types of human detection are visual detection, where an item is identified by sight, and tactile, where an object is located by touch when frisking or searching clothing. Electronic detection takes the form of X-ray machines and metal detectors.

Building and body searches by staff are an integral part of the normal prison routine. Inmates are routinely searched in their cells and as they come and go to workshops and visits. Because inmates are familiar with the search routine, they conceal contraband articles accordingly (usually on and in the body).

In order to prevent inmates from obtaining materials to manufacture and transport weapons, prison staff should focus their attention on several areas. These include the safe disposal of factory shop cut-offs and waste materials, close supervision of work being carried out by inmates, thorough search procedures on inmates entering and leaving workshops, high levels of staff vigilance and awareness, the appropriate supervision of visits and of external contractors working within the prison, and overseeing the prison laundry, which can be a transit point for contraband distribution. The escort of inmates to hospitals, courts anywhere outside of the prison complex, and additional attention to inmates who have used weapons in the past is also of importance.

Staff should receive ongoing, up-to-date information on improvised weapons as they are discovered in the prison environment. All weapons should be catalogued for future reference and available for viewing by staff. Proper safety equipment, such as suitable search gloves and mirrors, should also be available to enable staff to carry out search and detection tasks in a safe manner. They should also receive realistic training in protecting themselves against weapon attacks in the prison environment. Meanwhile, the struggle to deter, detect and control the manufacture and use of improvised weapons within the prison environment will continue as long as there are prisoners in prison

Originally published at SWAT Digest.

  • 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


    over 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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