Detention officers on look out for improvised weapons

Alisa Boswell

Prison shank may be a term recognized by many area residents, but the materials which make up these roughly constructed weapons are every day household items which many would never think of as a weapon.

“They’ve been doing it since the detention center opened,” Chief of Security Clay Layher said Tuesday of prisoner constructed weapons recently confiscated at the Roosevelt County jail. “This is something you’ll have every day, no matter what jail you’re in.”

He also said cell phones are one of the most dangerous things an inmate can acquire because they can be used to call people outside the jail to harass or harm witnesses or perform drug transactions.

Layher said there have been no severe instances of inmates attacking officers or fellow inmates in the county jail, but many weapons have been found or taken from inmates over the years.

“They usually use them to intimidate other inmates or officers,” said Cpl. David Gibbs. “There are some materials we have no choice but to give them and they’ll find ways to use them.”

He said prisoners will form ropes from trash bags, toilet paper and bed sheets and weapons from various every day household objects, such as parts of air conditioning vents, handles from a mop bucket, toilet brushes and pencils.

“We’ve all had bodily fluids on us at some point in time,” said jail Administrator David Casanova, laughing. “I’ve had food trays thrown at me a few times.”

One of the most recently constructed weapons taken from an inmate was a piece of metal which had been carved into a toothpick sized sword with trash bag string wrapped around the end of it. Casanova said the inmate made the weapon because he was angry with detention center personnel.

“That’s one of the biggest reasons there’s such a high turnover rate in correctional facilities is because people are under a large amount of stress with verbal and emotional abuse and threats,” Gibbs said. “A lot of new officers have a hard time handling it.”

Layher said a majority of officers can adjust to the environment and learn to cope with the stress after being trained. But he said there is a small percentage who never adjust and a small percentage who can adjust immediately.

“Some people just have a really good disposition to handle the job,” he said. “It really depends on personality.”

Layher and Gibbs said inmates also make tattoo tools from electrical wires and various parts stolen from radios and phones. Handcuff keys can be made from metal objects and asthma inhalers.

Gibbs said the best way to deal with inmate situations is to deal with the issue head on and not dwell on it.

“You can’t let it just sit there and build because it will definitely give you health problems,” Gibbs said. “The stress can be quite overwhelming.”

Casanova said updates on new types of weapons constructed by prison inmates are regularly posted on the National Institute of Corrections website at