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Doj Report on Improving Correctional Officer Safety Reducing Inmate Weapons Nov 2007

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The author(s) shown below used Federal funds provided by the U.S.
Department of Justice and prepared the following final report:

Document Title:

Improving Correctional Officer Safety: Reducing
Inmate Weapons

Author(s):

Paul J. Biermann

Document No.:

220485

Date Received:

November 2007

Award Number:

2002-IJ-CX-K017

This report has not been published by the U.S. Department of Justice.
To provide better customer service, NCJRS has made this Federallyfunded grant final report available electronically in addition to
traditional paper copies.

Opinions or points of view expressed are those
of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect
the official position or policies of the U.S.
Department of Justice.

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Improving Correctional Officer Safety:
Reducing Inmate Weapons
Agency Grant Number: 2002-IJ-CX-K017
Grantee: Johns Hopkins University – Applied Physics
Laboratory

Project Director: Paul J. Biermann, Member Principle
Professional Staff

U.S. Department of Justice/Office of Justice Programs

"This project was supported by Award No. 2005-IJ-CX-K023 awarded by the National Institute of
Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and
conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the
author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice."

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Table of Contents
BACKGROUND .............................................................................................................................. 2
PROGRESS .................................................................................................................................... 3
PHASE 1 - IDENTIFICATION AND EVALUATION OF UNCONVENTIONAL WEAPONS ................................. 3
PHASE 2 - PROTOTYPE DESIGN AND FABRICATION .......................................................................... 6
PHASE 3 - PROTOTYPE EVALUATION............................................................................................. 10
PHASE 4 - TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER TO THE CORRECTIONS COMMUNITY ........................................ 13
SUMMARY .................................................................................................................................... 14
APPENDIX 1 –SURVEYS ............................................................................................................. 15
STATE: ....................................................................................................................................... 15
FEDERAL: ................................................................................................................................... 17
APPENDIX 2 - IRB SUBMISSION ................................................................................................ 19
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.

SPECIFIC RESEARCH QUESTION ADDRESSED ............................................................. 19
RATIONALE ......................................................................................................................... 19
METHODS............................................................................................................................ 19
RISKS VS. BENEFITS.......................................................................................................... 21
CONSENT PROCEDURES.................................................................................................. 21
DISCLOSURE LETTER ....................................................................................................... 21
CONFIDENTIALITY ............................................................................................................. 21

APPENDIX 3 – SURVEY RESULTS PAPER ............................................................................... 22
INMATE-MADE WEAPONS: ASSESSING THE INJURY RISK”............................................................. 22\
Abstract ................................................................................................................................. 23
Introduction ........................................................................................................................... 23
Methods ................................................................................................................................ 25
Results .................................................................................................................................. 26
Discussion............................................................................................................................. 28
Recommendations ................................................................................................................ 31
Acknowledgments:................................................................................................................ 33
References:........................................................................................................................... 34
APPENDIX 4 – CURRENT RESULTS ON NON-METALS DETECTION STUDY....................... 42
BIBLIOGRAPHY ............................................................................................................................ 46
APPENDIX 5 – ACA ARTICLE..................................................................................................... 48

1

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Final Report
Background
Problem Definition
The corrections officer is exposed to a number of hazards that do not exist for
many other professions. Surrounded by inmates with a history of violent behavior and
materials that can be converted into weapons, many relatively innocuous items have
been converted into weapons that have maimed and killed corrections officers. These
innocuous items include toothbrushes, locks, safety razors and broken glass. For
example, a common misuse of toothbrushes is to sharpen them for stabbing and to
reshape them to hold sharp metal blades. These items are introduced into the prison
environment from a number of sources:
-

Purchased from the commissary such as toiletries and locks

-

Stolen or illicitly introduced to the prison environment

-

Salvaged or vandalized from prison facilities.

Such items are considered contraband when they are obtained without
authorization and modified or used as weapons to threaten the safety and security of
correctional personnel, inmates or facilities.

The Corrections Threat
“In this little city,'' says LaMont W. Flanagan, who oversees the Baltimore City
Detention Center, “you have the powerful and the powerless. The shank takes the place
of a gun on the street.” 1
While the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports Law Enforcement Officers Killed and
Assaulted (LEOKA) report provides detailed insight into the nature and types of assaults
on police officers, there are no comparable details currently maintained for assaults on
corrections officers. In 1988, 23 corrections officers were attacked with weapons while
123 were attacked without weapons. In 1990, the last year that data was collected by the
Department of Justice, there were 185 assaults on federal corrections officers. Between
1990 and 1995 there was a 33% increase in the number of assaults by inmates on
corrections facility staff. In 1990, there were 10,731 reported assaults by inmates on

1 © - The Baltimore Sun, SUN STAFF Ivan Penn, Lethal handiwork behind prison walls: Search for
shanks never turns up all. 11/17/1997
2

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

corrections facility staff; in 1995, there were 14,165 reported assaults. The nature of the
assaults has become more severe as well. In 1990, none of the reported assaults
resulted in the death of the staff member who was assaulted. By comparison, in 1995,
14 staff members were killed as a result of the assault. 2
While the threat faced by the police officer is most frequently from firearms, a
corrections officer faces an entirely different variety of threats. It is rare for an inmate to
have a firearm within a correctional facility. The most common threat faced by correction
facility staff is from pointed- and sharp-edged weapons. Most of these are homemade or
improvised weapons, obtained through a variety of sources in the corrections
environment.
More than twice as frequent are the number of prisoner assaults on other
prisoners. Approximately 3% of prisoners are assaulted and injured by other prisoners
each year in federal prisons. The probability of similar assaults is almost four times
higher in state prisons. A reduction of weapon availability or effectiveness is expected to
also reduce the number and severity injuries from prisoner assaults on other prisoners.

Progress
Phase 1 - Identification and Evaluation of Unconventional Weapons
To address the data collection and analysis JHU has assembled a working group
consisting of 14 members to analyze data in a scientific manner on unconventional
weapons, their frequency and cost to the corrections system. The group is made up of 8
members that are practitioners from the correctional community, and 6 members from
JHU staff. Note that two original members (in italics) have been replaced by two new
members from their same organizations.

Suzanne Baker

JHU/Center for Injury Research & Policy

Paul Biermann

JHU/APL

Lily Chen

JHU/Center for Injury Research & Policy

Alex Fox

Mass. Department of Corrections

Robert Greene

Montgomery Co. MD Dept. of Corrections & Rehabilitation

Jack Harne

NLECTC

2

Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2001. US DOJ, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice
Statistics, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/ascii/pjim01.txt
3

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

John Kenney

Hamden Co. MA, House of Corrections

Jennifer Lincoln

JHU/Center for Injury Research & Policy

Julie Mair

JHU/Center for Injury Research & Policy

Mike Maloney

Mass. Department of Corrections

Larry Meachum

National Institute of Justice (Retired 12/31/03, replaced by

Al Turner

National Institute of Justice)

Robert Palmquist

Federal Bureau of Prisons (reassigned, replaced by

John Ely

Federal Bureau of Prisons)

Emily Ward

JHU/APL

Reggie Wilkinson

Ohio Dept. of Rehabilitation & Corrections

The survey of correctional agencies was conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center
for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) with input from the working group.

Thirteen states volunteered their corrections institutions for participation in the
surveys. After details and questions were addressed, the list was reduced to ten states.
Participating states and the number of institutions contacted in each state:
Arizona
Indiana
Louisiana
Michigan
Missouri
New Jersey
Ohio
Pennsylvania
Texas
Utah

5 facilities
3 facilities
4 facilities
9 facilities
6 facilities
11 facilities
6 facilities
8 facilities
16 facilities
1 facility

Once a list of institutions was developed, the next step was to telephone, e-mail
or write to a contact person at each institution to discuss the project, its rationale, and
the advantage to the institution of learning more about the nature of unconventional
weapons, their derivation, and the manner in which they are used (Appendix 1). The
working group members provided guidance on the sources of information that would be
available within the scope of the project and recommendations on achieving a high
response rate from the recruited institutions. The group also helped to refine and
improve the questions based on their experience.

4

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The forms were designed to elicit, with a minimum of effort on the part of the
person filling them out, information about the sequence of events, the nature of the
improvised weapon (size, shape, what it was made from and how, etc.) if known, and the
consequences (threat vs. physical injury, severity of injury, number of persons
injured)(Appendix 1). Each attack was coded/categorized with regard to type of weapon
and consequences. The objective of the analysis was to determine which objects merit
attention.
The program was required to obtain IRB approval to conduct the phone survey.
The submission (Appendix 2) to the IRB review panel required a finalized set of
questions which delayed the submission until after the second meeting on May 20th,
2003. Final IRB approval was received by Dr Baker on Aug. 20th, 2003.
The 3rd meeting of the working group was held on December 4th, 2003 at
JHU/APL. That meeting produced a prioritized list of targets for engineering solutions to
improvised weapons. Using that list JHU/APL staff developed proposed designs for
razors, including both blade design and handle material changes, toothbrushes,
mop/broom handles and fencing ties. A separate study was started to look at the
growing problem of how to detect hard plastic stock and weapons made from it.
The 4th meeting of the working group held April 13th, 2004 at the Johns Hopkins
Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) in Baltimore, MD. The primary purpose of
the meeting was to review the survey results, review the prioritized list of weapon/threat
sources and provide and update on the engineering assessment phase of the project
The results of that meeting were:
•

A review of the survey results.
10 states represented
157 facilitates narrowed to ~100 facility sample
From the narrowed field 85 facilities responded

•

A review of engineering approaches to the items on the prioritized list of
weapons/sources that have shown up most frequently or are perceived as
posing the greatest threat.

5

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

PRIORITIZED LIST:
1. Razors
1. Hard Plastic Stock (Polymer cannot be detected)
2. Personal Locks
3. Toothbrushes
4. Mop/Broom Handles
5. Fencing Material
•

A decision to concentrate first on weapons that could cause fatality
versus just injury.

•

A decision to publish the findings and report in Corrections Today
magazine, an NIJ journal.

•

Discussed the possibility of getting engineering undergrads to play
mastermind to find possible ways to make our prototypes into a weapon
or having a contest for the correctional officer community to find ways to
make a weapon out of the prototypes.

•

A decision to schedule the 5th meeting in mid to late August, 2004.

The 5th meeting was held June 8th, 2005 at JHU/APL. The primary purpose of
that meeting was to review the prototypes and direct focus on how to get this information
to corrections practitioners that would be possible end users..

Phase 2 - Prototype Design and Fabrication
This activity started after the 3rd meeting held on December 4th, 2003 at
JHU/APL. Based on the prioritized list defined at that meeting, JHU/APL staff
developed proposed solution designs for razors, including both blade and handle
material changes, toothbrushes, mop/broom handles and fencing ties. A separate study
was started of the hard plastic stock detection problem. At the 3rd meeting it was noted
that a definitive solution to this detection of non-metals problem would most likely
exceed the scope and funding of the current effort. During this reporting period, an
updated survey of non-metallic weapons detection technologies was conducted. The
results of that updated study are included as Appendix 4.
The approach taken for the toothbrush has been to replace the thermoplastic
materials that the traditional items are molded from with a combination of thermosetting
polymers. The result is a structure that cannot be melted and therefore cannot be easily
6

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

altered to form a weapon. The bulk of the handle uses a softer polymer that cannot be
sharpened. The area near the head is a firmer polymer that supports the mechanical
loads normally exerted during the brushing action. Only the bristle area is fabricated
from traditional materials, although it could be modified if required. See Figure 1. Other
variations include adding various fillers to the handle resin that 1) act as a method to
cause the handle to crumble and break off in small pieces if an attempt is made to alter
or reshape the handle and 2) reduce the volume of resin required to mold the item which
will lower the cost of the part.
The same approach was used for the razor handle and could also be used on
comb and brush handle, eating utensils and any other common items currently molded
from thermoplastic polymers. See Figure 2. Our prototypes were fabricated by casting
molds from existing commercial products and then casting the polymers that we selected
in those molds to form the prototypes. See Figure 3. In commercial production, the
same results could be achieved using faster curing polymers as liquids injected into
metal molds very similar to the way the current products are molded using thermoplastic
polymers in metal molds.

7

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Figure 1. Thermosetting polymer toothbrush prototype with soft handle.

Figure 2. Modified razor handle using non-reformable materials.

8

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Figure 3. Silicone mold for toothbrush prototype.

Figure 4. Silicone mold for razor handle prototype.

9

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Phase 3 - Prototype Evaluation
This activity started at the 4th working group meeting held at CIRP and continued
at the 5th meeting which was held June 8th, 2005 at JHU/APL. Prototype handles for
razors and toothbrushes have been fabricated incorporating both materials and design
changes that will not allow them to be melted or reformed with heat. They also cannot
be sharpened by abrasion. Figure 5 shows the remodeled forms for the tooth brush and
razor handles. The shapes were modified to allow the use of a cardboard rod stiffener
also shown in the image. The original prototypes shown in Figures 1 and 2 used a thin
fiberglass rod as a stiffener, but that was switched for the cardboard rod to prevent the
extraction of the fiberglass rod which could be used to make a weapon if sharpened.
Figure 6 shows the two types of razor handle model and the small insert used to provide
interface with the commercial razor head design. The shorter and thicker tapered
handle can be fabricated without the use of an internal stiffener. All of the handles are
molded using the same rubbery urethane materials as described above. Figure 7 shows
the modified razor blade. The slots are cut to within 0.050” of the beginning or thick side
of the cutting edge using electron discharge machining or EDM. When the blades are
bonded into the holder shown in Figure 2, the slots create weak spots that will break if
an attempt is made to remove the blade from the holder. The result is a series of short
segments that are very difficult to use in the fashioning of a weapon. The segments
could be made smaller if the blade could be designed from the ground up. This design
was limited by the existing holes in the commercial blades we extracted from standard
throw away razors. Figure 8 shows a prototype mop/broom handle that has been
fabricated that will not deliver large side impact forces if used to strike a target. The
handle has a stiff syntactic foam core and is covered with a softer flexible foam outer
shell to reduce damage when struck against a person. In this example a lightweight
broom head has also been fabricated using the stiff syntactic foam material with some
internal stiffening rods. The rods can be seen as dark shadows in the head. Figure 9
shows the flexibility of the handle that will bend first and then break before inflicting
severe damage.

10

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Figure 5: Modified models for toothbrush and razor handles shown with cardboard rod
stiffener.

Figure 6: Two designs for razor handles shown with the hard plastic inserts used to
attach the blade holder.

11

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Figure 7: Slotted blades designed to break up when removed from the razor.

Figure 8: Lightweight broom handle and head designed to reduce damage if used to
strike someone.

12

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Figure 9: Lightweight broom handle can deflect before breaking.
Phase 4 - Technology Transfer to the Corrections Community
This activity was discussed during the 5th working group meeting and continued
to the end of the project. During this program we have initiated contacts with UNICOR,
part of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. They have a very large manufacturing operation
covering numerous technologies including plastics manufacturing. Inquiries have also
been received from a number of state and local corrections departments who want to
know when these items will be available for them to test. Two presentations on this
technology were made during the NLECTC organized training activities at the Mock
Prision Riot, 2006, another to NTPAC at their meeting in Sturbridge, MA and to the NIJ
Technical Conference in Washington, DC 2006. In addition, articles were written and
published in the NLECTC Tech Beat and the ACA Journal. A copy of the ACA article is
attached in Appendix 5.
13

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Summary
The program completed Phase 3 by June 2006. The Phase 4 activities continued
through September 2006. Five meetings of the working group have been held and the
APL staff has visited five representative corrections facilities at the local, State and
Federal level. Surveys have been conducted of the participating state facilities. Data
collection and tabulation have finished and a paper has been written and published
(Appendix 3). A study of non-metals detection technologies was completed and the
results are presented (Appendix 4). Multiple prototypes have been fabricated of most of
the proposed solutions for razors, toothbrushes and mop/broom handles. Efforts
continue to license the technology for insertion into the corrections system.
Schedule
JHU/APL’s program was originally scheduled to cover a 12-month period. The
program has been extended 4 times, once to allow more time for data collection and a
second time to allow for further prototype engineering and fabrication activities. The
other two extensions were required to meet working group participant’s schedules and
program staff changes at NIJ. A final extension allowed the Phase 4 activities to
continue through end of September of 2006 when the funding expired.

14

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Appendix 1 –Surveys
State:
State prison listserve

Identifying Unconventional Weapons Fashioned by Prisoners
Message to be emailed to directors of state prison systems.

The National Institute of Justice is sponsoring a study of weapons used by or
confiscated from prisoners, to learn how many weapons are confiscated, what the
weapons were made from, and whether they were used to attack or injure corrections
staff or prisoners. The information from the study will be used to identify materials to be
modified so that they cannot be used to make weapons. The study has been endorsed
by a committee of national, state, and county correctional officials.

The participation of all states would add to the value of the survey. If you would like your
state to be included, please provide a list of your maximum and medium security
facilities, indicating for each one:
Name and location of facility
Security level
Approximate number of prisoners (________males, _______females)
Contact person (name, phone number, and email)
The contact person could be an investigations officer, disciplinary officer, or other person
able to provide the information described below on confiscated weapons and the
numbers of weapon-related attacks on and injuries to staff and prisoners. The
information would be provided in a pre-arranged ten-minute telephone call from
investigators at Johns Hopkins University. The contact person would previously have
been provided with a list of the questions in order to prepare the answers.

Not every facility in your state would be contacted, rather a random sample designed to
be geographically representative. This is a confidential survey, and no institution or
person will be identified. The contact person would be told that their participation is
voluntary and that they may decline to answer a question or end the conversation at any
time.

15

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

We hope that your state will participate in this valuable study. Please indicate your
willingness by sending the above information by June 10 to _______________,
via email__________
or fax #_________
QUESTIONS TO BE ASKED OF A CONTACT PERSON AT A CORRECTIONS
FACILITY
First, please tell me your job title
I would like to know what kind of prisoner-made weapons you are most worried about?
What materials or objects are they made from?
Is there another type or source of weapons that you are especially concerned about?
About how many prisoner-made weapons are confiscated in an average month?
How many staff members are there at your institution, including corrections officers,
administrative staff, etc.?
What is your inmate supervision methodology? (direct, indirect, both, or other [if ‘other’,
specify])
We would like to have the answers to the following questions about weapon-related
attacks and injuries in your facility during the past 12 months. (Do not include injuries
from physical force, fists etc. when no weapon was involved.)
1. How many prison-made weapons were confiscated?
2. How many attacks were there that involved a weapon?
3.

For each person who was injured by a weapon,

Was the person a staff member or a prisoner?
What weapon was used?
What was it made from?
Where did the material originate? (e.g., the metal came from materials
in a vocational education shop and the razor blade from the commissary).
In the case of a staff member:
Was medical care required?
How much time did the staff member lose?
What was the job position of the staff member?
In the case of a prisoner, was medical care required?
4. What is the most unusual weapon you have seen in the past 12 months?

16

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Federal:
Federal letter draft

Identifying Unconventional Weapons Fashioned by Prisoners
Message to be emailed to directors of federal prisons
The National Institute of Justice is sponsoring a study of weapons used by or
confiscated from prisoners, to learn how many weapons are confiscated, what the
weapons were made from, and whether they were used to attack or injure corrections
staff or prisoners. The information from the study will be used to identify materials to be
modified so they cannot be used to make weapons. The study has been endorsed by a
committee of national, state, and county correctional officials.
The participation of all high- or medium-security federal prisons would add greatly to the
value of the survey. If you would like your prison to be included, please provide the
following;
Name and location of facility
Security level
Approximate number of prisoners (________males, _______females)
Contact person (name, phone number, and email)
The contact person could be an investigations officer, disciplinary officer, or other person
able to provide the information described below on confiscated weapons and the
numbers of weapon-related attacks and injuries to staff and prisoners. The information
would be provided in a pre-arranged ten-minute telephone call from investigators at
Johns Hopkins University. The contact person would previously have been provided
with a list of the questions (see below) in order to prepare the answers. No information
will be sought about the prisoners.
This is a confidential survey, and no institution or person will be identified. The contact
person would be told that their participation is voluntary and that they may decline to
answer a question or end the conversation at any time.
We hope that your facility will participate in this valuable study. Please indicate your
willingness by sending the above information to Professor Susan Baker at Johns
Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 624 N Broadway, Baltimore MD 21205, or
sbaker@jhsph.edu or fax 410-614-2797. If you have questions about the study, please
call Dr. Baker at 410-955-2078.
QUESTIONS TO BE ASKED OF THE CONTACT PERSON AT A CORRECTIONS
FACILITY IN A PREARRANGED TELEPHONE CALL
First, please tell me your job title
I would like to know what kind of prisoner-made weapons you are most worried about?
What materials or objects are they made from?
Is there another type or source of weapons that you are especially concerned about?
About how many prisoner-made weapons are confiscated in an average month?
How many staff members are there at your institution, including corrections officers,
administrative staff, etc.?
17

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

What is your inmate supervision methodology? (direct, indirect, both, or other [if ‘other’,
specify])
We would like to have the answers to the following questions about weapon-related
attacks and injuries in your facility during the past 12 months. (Do not include injuries
from physical force, fists etc. when no weapon was involved.)
1.

How many prison-made weapons were confiscated?

2.

How many attacks were there that involved a weapon?

3.

For each person who was injured by a weapon,

Was the person a staff member or a prisoner?
What weapon was used?
What was it made from?
Where did the material originate? (e.g., the metal came from materials
in a vocational education shop and the razor blade from the commissary).
In the case of a staff member:
Was medical care required?
How much time did the staff member lose?
What was the job position of the staff member?
In the case of a prisoner, was medical care required?
4.

What is the most unusual weapon you have seen in the past 12 months?

Thank you very much for your time and interest. If you have any questions about the
research, please contact the principal investigator of the study, Susan P. Baker at the
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 410-955-2078. Questions regarding
rights of research subjects can be answered by Ms. Chris Fornwalt, 410-614-5890.

18

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Appendix 2 - IRB Submission
WEAPONS IRB2 word

Identifying Unconventional Weapons Fashioned by Prisoners
Susan P. Baker, MPH, Principal Investigator
A subcontract from the Applied Physics Laboratory to the JHBSPH, as part of its
project:
“Improving Correctional Officer Safety:
Reducing Inmate Weapons”

1. SPECIFIC RESEARCH QUESTION ADDRESSED
What items commonly found in prisons are modified by prisoners to produce weapons
such as knives and then used to attack or injure corrections officers?
Information to answer this question will be collected in a survey of prisons during Phase
1 of a project of the Applied Physics Laboratory. In Phase 2 (not addressed by the
School of Public Health), APL will develop ways to modify some commonly found items
so they cannot be fashioned into injurious weapons.
2. RATIONALE
According to the 2000 Corrections Yearbook, more than 2400 correctional staff
members required medical attention in 1999 following assaults by inmates. Many of the
assaults involved unconventional, ‘homemade’ weapons made by prisoners. Therefore,
a survey of correctional facilities will be conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg
School of Public Health to find out more about the weapons.
The corrections officer is exposed to a number of hazards that do not exist for most
other professions. Corrections staff are surrounded by inmates with a history of violent
behavior and materials that can be converted into weapons. Many items that appear
innocuous have been converted into weapons that have maimed and killed corrections
officers. Examples of these items include toothbrushes, locks, safety razors and metal
torn from ventilators. In illustration, a common misuse of toothbrushes is to sharpen
them for stabbing and to reshape them to hold sharp metal blades. The items from
which weapons are made are introduced into the prison environment from a number of
sources. They may be purchased from the commissary, such as toiletries and locks,
stolen or illicitly introduced into the prison environment, or salvaged from prison facilities.
The purpose of the proposed research is to provide information on the frequency with
which various weapons are confiscated or used in prisons and the materials from which
they are made
3.

METHODS
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This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Data collection and analysis will be preceded by assembling a working group consisting
of prison wardens, directors of state prison systems, and other practitioners from the
correctional community. Prior to our contacting institutions, the working group members
will provide guidance on the sources of information and recommendations on achieving
a high response rate from the recruited institutions. The group will also help to refine
and improve the questions, based on their experience.
The survey of correctional institutions will be facilitated by a listserve of directors
of state prison systems that is commonly used by persons on the list to contact other
members for providing information, conducting surveys, etc. The president of the
association of state corrections directors (a member of the project working group) will
use the listserve to send an email (contents attached) to all directors of state prison
systems, explaining the project and asking them to provide the name of a contact person
in each medium- and maximum-security prison in their state. We anticipate that between
15 and 25 states will provide this information. A stratified random sample of facilities will
then be created. The strata will be based upon security level, gender of inmates, and
geographic distribution of the prisons -- information that is generally available on the
internet. Names of facilities in each stratum will be placed in a box and drawn at random
to provide a list of 150 facilities; we expect that 100 of these will be available and willing
to be interviewed.
Once the institutions to be contacted are identified, the next step will be to telephone or
email the contact person at each institution. Prior to conducting the actual telephone
interview, we will set up an appointment for the interview and provide the person to be
interviewed (typically the investigations officer in the prison) with a list of the questions
that we will ask. This will enable the officer to obtain the needed information from the
records that are kept by all prisons on weapons and attacks. Scripts for the initial and
follow-up phone calls are attached.
The primary purpose of the questions will be to determine the numbers and types of
weapons (including what they are made from) that are most commonly used by
prisoners to injure or intimidate corrections officers and others. Initially we will ask the
officer about his/her primary concerns, because this will show that we are interested in
his/her opinion and also because it will be valuable to know what they perceive as the
greatest hazards. Another purpose will be to determine whether the injuries required
medical attention or resulted in lost work days for the injured staff member. To quantify
the threat to corrections officer health from inmate attack, an estimate of the number of
corrections staff in each facility surveyed will be obtained, as well as the number
attacked or threatened by weapons during the previous year. Information on weapons
confiscated or used against other prisoners will also be obtained; these also represent a
threat to corrections staff.
Institutions that do not agree to participate will be analyzed to determine whether the
responding institutions are reasonably representative, with respect to size and type of
facility (e.g., security level, geographic location.)
(Based primarily on analysis of the data collected, the working group members will
identify critical problems that will be then evaluated from a number of aspects including
technical feasibility of modification of weapons materials, cost, operational
implementation, and acceptance by staff and inmates. A subset of two or three
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This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

problems with acceptable technical risks and solutions will be selected for further study
in Phase 2 of this program, in which the Applied Physics Laboratory will address the
redesign of various objects to reduce the likelihood that they can be used to injure
people.)

4.

RISKS VS. BENEFITS

There is potential benefit to corrections officers and prisoners who may eventually be
better protected from attack with unconventional weapons. There are no risks to the
people surveyed, since the name of the person interviewed will be removed from the
files once the answers to questions have been entered in our data base. Furthermore,
our working group members have assured us that even if the contact person were to
become known, there is no chance that responding to the survey could in any way have
a negative effect on him or her, including on job status.

5.

CONSENT PROCEDURES

In the course of the telephone interview (see script) the person interviewed will have an
opportunity to decline to participate, or to end the interview at any time.
6.

DISCLOSURE LETTER

Text of the email that will be sent to directors of state prison systems and of the
telephone scripts are attached.
7.

CONFIDENTIALITY

No names or other identifying information on individuals injured or involved in any way in
attacks will be obtained. The name of the person interviewed will be removed from our
records at the end of the second interview (or after the initial phone call, if the person
declines the follow-up call). Information from all of the facilities will be pooled and no
facility will be identified in any publication or release of data. No information will be
obtained about prisoners, since this is a study of weapons, not prisoners.
8.

COLLABORATION - N/A

9.

OTHER IRB APPROVALS - N/A

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This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Appendix 3 – Survey Results Paper
This has been published in Injury Prevention 2006;12; 195-198

“Inmate-Made Weapons: Assessing the Injury Risk”
Jennifer M. Lincoln, MS*, Li-Hui Chen, MS, PhD*, Julie Samia Mair, JD,
MPH*, Paul J. Biermann+, Susan P. Baker, MPH*

* Center for Injury Research and Policy, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of
Public Health, Baltimore MD
+

Johns Hopkins University, Applied Physics Lab, Laurel MD

Corresponding author:
Jennifer Lincoln
Center for Injury Research and Policy
624 N. Broadway, Baltimore MD 21205
Phone 410-614-2814, Fax 410-614-2797
jlincoln@jhsph.edu

This research was funded under grant #2002-IJ-CX-K017 from the Department of Justice to the
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and in part by the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, Center for Injury Prevention and Control Grant #CCR302486.

The research was initiated by the funding source and analyzed by the investigators.

22

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Abstract
Background: Assaults involving unconventional, ‘homemade’ weapons result in
more than 2000 injuries annually to correctional staff members in the United
States. The objectives of this study were 1) To describe the weapons
confiscated in prisons, the materials from which they were made, and the
sources of these materials and 2) To determine the incidence of injuries to
inmates and staff and the resulting cost and time lost by correctional staff.
Methods: We surveyed 101 state prison facilities regarding weapons
confiscated or used in attacks in a 12-month period within 2002-2003.
Results: Of the 101 prisons in the sample, 70 provided data, a 69% response
rate. A total of 1,326 weapons were either confiscated (1,086) or used to injure
inmates (203) or staff (37). The weapons most commonly confiscated or used to
attack inmates were shanks (34% and 31%, respectively). Staff members were
most often attacked with clubs (54%). The injury rate for one year for inmates
was 1.60/1000 inmates and for staff was 0.97/1000 workers. The cost of time
lost and medical care for staff was estimated at $1,125,000.
Conclusions: As a result of this survey, the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns
Hopkins University is undertaking the redesign of materials and objects, focusing
on commissary items most commonly used to make weapons.

Key words:
Assaults, weapons, prisoners, occupational injuries

Introduction
Many hazards exist in the correction officer’s workplaces that do not exist
for most other professions. These workers often have contact with inmates with
a history of violent behavior and access to materials that can be used as or
converted into weapons. More than 2400 correctional staff members in the
United States required medical attention in 1999 following assaults by inmates

23

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

[1]. Many of these assaults involved unconventional, ‘homemade’ weapons
made by inmates.
Items that appear innocuous have been converted into weapons that have
maimed and killed corrections officers. Examples include toothbrushes, locks,
safety razors, metal torn from ventilators, and paper that has been hardened with
toothpaste. These items have been modified into daggers, shanks, saps or
garrotes [2]. Common misuses of toothbrushes include sharpening them for
stabbing and reshaping them to hold sharp metal blades.
The items from which weapons are made are introduced into the prison
environment from a number of sources. They may be purchased from the
commissary, taken from prison industries, introduced into the prison environment
during visitation, or salvaged from prison facilities.
Few details exist about the problem of inmates modifying objects to be
used as weapons. In the mid-1990s, a survey was conducted of facilities in the
southern United States to determine their experience with problems of inmates
making weapons from prescribed medical devices such as knee braces.
Thirty-four percent of the facilities responded that indeed medical devices had
been “used or altered in a criminal manner.” The authors concluded that the illicit
use of medical devices by inmates is a legitimate safety concern for prison
officials [3].
Case reports in medical journals describe injuries seen in inmates from
homemade weapons. One report discussed injuries that occur when dagger-like
weapons pierce tissue and then are broken off, embedding the object and
leaving an inconspicuous entrance wound resulting in a life-threatening injury [4].
Not all weapons used in prison assaults are manufactured or modified
from other items. Some are weapons of opportunity. These would include
objects found in the inmate’s environment that are grabbed and used in an attack
[2]. These types of weapons could include pieces of furniture, broom handles
and dustpans.
The objectives of this study were 1) To describe the types of weapons
confiscated in prisons, the materials from which they were made, and the

24

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

sources of these materials and 2) To determine the incidence of injuries from
attacks using weapons to inmates and staff, the weapons used in these attacks,
and the resulting cost and time lost by correctional staff.

Methods
We conducted a telephone survey of medium- and maximum-security
state prison facilities across the country regarding confiscated weapons and
weapons used in attacks in the facilities for a 12-month period within 2002-2003.
The facilities were identified from states that volunteered to participate in
response to a letter sent from the Association of State Correctional
Administrators to the office of corrections in each state. Thirteen states with 187
medium- and maximum-security facilities indicated they would participate. A
stratified random sample of 101 medium- and maximum-security facilities was
selected based upon security level and gender of inmates.
The telephone surveys had two parts. The initial call confirmed that the
facility wanted to participate and identified the person who would collect and
provide the weapon and injury information for the facility. A survey questionnaire
was then sent to the contact person at the facility. Each facility that participated
reviewed its records of weapons confiscated, for instance during “shakedowns,”
and of injuries that occurred from weapons in that prison. The second telephone
call collected the information from the contact person.
Basic facility information was obtained regarding number of employees
and number of inmates. Weapon information included weapons that were
confiscated and those that were used in each assault. We did not include body
parts (i.e. fists, feet, teeth) as weapons. Time lost from work and hospitalization
was recorded when correctional staff were injured.
Weapons were categorized by type of weapon, materials they were made
from, and source of materials. Injuries were categorized by person injured,
weapon used, and number of workdays lost by correctional staff. Percentages of
type of weapons were calculated for confiscated weapons, weapons used to
attack inmates and weapons used to attack staff. Leading categories of weapon

25

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

materials and sources of materials were also reported. Inmate and worker injury
rates were calculated per 1,000 inmate population and per 1,000 worker
population.
To estimate the number of lost work days and the cost of injuries suffered
by staff, weights were calculated based on sampling fraction of prison facilities by
security level for each state.
Lost wages were calculated by multiplying the weighted number of
workdays lost by the mean daily wages of each state. Standard estimates of the
2002 salary from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for “correctional officers and
jailers” in each state was used for the calculation. If this estimate was not
available for a state, the US average salary for “correctional officers and jailers”
was used.
The total cost of medical care for correctional staff was based upon the
estimated cost of hospitalization and of non-hospitalized injuries. The weighted
number of hospitalized injuries was multiplied by a published figure for the
average cost of a hospital admission [5]. The weighted number of nonhospitalized injuries was multiplied by a figure for the average cost of a doctor or
clinic visit. The figures for average medical costs of hospitalization and nonhospitalized doctor or clinic visits were based on costs of non-fatal consumer
product injuries [5]. We assumed that all non-hospitalized injuries were clinic or
doctors’ office visits, thus making the most conservative estimation.
Validity of the sample was checked by comparing the sampled prisons
and all of the prisons in one state. The comparisons indicates that the sample
is very good in identify leading categories of weapon.
The Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health,
Committee on Human Research approved the study protocol.

Results
Of the 101 prisons in the sample, 70 were successfully contacted and
provided data that yielded a 69% response rate with ultimately 10 states
participating. All of them provided data on weapons used in attacks. However,

26

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

one state (16 sampled facilities) did not provide information on confiscated
weapons. The rest of the facilities from other states that participated did include
information on confiscated weapons.
A total of 1326 weapons were either confiscated (1,086) or used to injure
inmates (203) or staff (37) during the 12-month survey period. (Table 1) The
weapons most commonly confiscated were shanks (34%), daggers (27%), and
razors (22%). The weapons most commonly used to attack inmates were
shanks (31%), clubs (21%) and saps (e.g. locks in socks) (17%). The weapons
most commonly used to attack staff were clubs (54%), daggers (11%) and razors
(11%). ‘Clubs’ included unmodified objects such as pitchers, hot pots, and
broom handles.
The types of weapons used in an attack varied between medium- and
maximum-security facilities (Table 2). Weapons used to injure in mediumsecurity facilities were usually shanks (32%), clubs (17%) and saps (15%), while
weapons used to injure in maximum-security facilities were clubs (34%), shanks
(20%) and razors (15%). The three most common weapons used to injure in
mixed-security prisons [shanks (29%), clubs (28%), saps (20%)] were the same
as in medium level facilities.
Weapons that were confiscated or used to injure inmates were most
commonly made from miscellaneous metal, razors, and locks (Table 3).

Staff

members were most commonly injured by weapons made from brooms or
dustpans, razors, hairbrushes and miscellaneous metal.
In most cases, the source of the materials used to make these weapons
was unknown (Table 4). The most common known source of materials for these
confiscated weapons and weapons that were used to injure inmates was the
commissary. Staff were injured most often by items from unknown sources
(generally, these were items commonly found in the environment).
Thirty-seven staff members and 203 inmates were injured during the 12month survey period. We calculated injury rates per 1000 inmates and per 1000
workers. The injury rate for inmates was 1.60/1000 inmates and for staff was
0.97/1000 workers (table 5). The injury rate among inmates was similar in

27

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

maximum- and medium-security prisons, 1.52 and 1.57/1000 inmates,
respectively.

The injury rate among staff was highest in mixed facilities – i.e.,

those with both medium- and maximum-security sections. The high rate of staff
injury in this category was due to a single prison where 18 staff members were
injured, 14 of them in one melee. If that prison were removed from the
calculations, the staff injury rate for mixed-security prisons would be 0.47/1000
workers, similar to the rate for medium- security prisons. The great variability
among facilities was further emphasized by the fact that four of the 10
participating states reported no injuries to staff from weapons used by prisoners.
Females comprised less than 5% of the inmates in the 70 facilities. Their
injury rate was slightly higher than the rate among male inmates (2.0 vs.
1.6/1000 inmates). There were no injuries to staff in
female facilities.
Based on the reported days lost due to these injuries, an estimated 2,531
workdays would have been lost from all facilities in these states during the 12month survey period. The estimated cost of lost wages due to days lost was
$403,901. A conservative estimate of medical costs associated with these 37
injuries to staff members is $721,408. In total, time lost and medical costs of
injury to staff from weapons used by prisoners amounted to $1,125,309 in one
year for ten states.

Discussion
With this survey, we enumerated the types of weapons confiscated and
used in attacks. The survey revealed that weapons that were confiscated were
usually cutting or piercing instruments (83%, razors, shanks and daggers) while
38% of weapons used in attacks on inmates and 57% of weapons used in
attacks on staff were blunt objects such as saps and clubs. (Figure 2). Most
weapons used in attacks on staff could be classified as weapons of opportunity
(e.g., broom handle, pitcher) that were not considered weapons until they were
spontaneously used in an attack. A study reviewing types of weapons and
patterns of use in a forensic hospital found that psychiatric patients were more

28

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

frequently attacked by other patients using weapons made from silverware while
staff members were more frequently attacked by patients using pieces of
furniture as weapons of opportunity [2].
One reason for the difference in types of weapons confiscated versus
those used in an attack might be that weapons that were confiscated could have
been made just for defense or intimidation purposes and not intended to be used
in an attack. One of the greatest dangers to correctional officers, however, is
breaking up inmate-on-inmate fights. The low usage of shanks and daggers in
injury to staff is supported by another study in which only 2.3% of the correctional
officer injuries were caused by these items [6]. In this same study, the use of
weapons other than personal force was found to be positively associated with an
increased chance of injury in an attack.
The annual injury rate we calculated for staff was .97/1000 staff members.
The overall annual non-fatal injury rate for workers in the United States is 5.4/100
full time workers [7]. Our injury rate is lower because it reflects only those
injuries that workers received as a result of an assault using a weapon. We only
explored the use of weapons in assaults and did not learn about injuries from
other sources such as back strains and falls or from assaults involving physical
force. Therefore, this injury rate is not an overall estimate of injury. In a study of
battery incidents in a maximum-security hospital, 91% of the 232 batteries did not
involve a weapon other than the assailant’s body [8]. Another study of assault,
battery and injury of correctional officers revealed an injury rate of 16.8/100,000
work hours [6]. This figure would equate to about 8.4 injuries per 1000 workers
per year and would include all injuries, including instances where only the
assailant’s body was used as a weapon or where bodily fluids were thrown at
staff.
The cost estimate given is very conservative. Not included in the cost of
staff injuries are non-monetary losses such as pain, family dislocation, and
changes in the quality of life. In addition to staff injuries, the 203 injuries to
prisoners from homemade weapons resulted in costs for medical care and for
two staff usually required to accompany any prisoner who traveled to or from an

29

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

outside facility for medical care. It has been estimated that the minimum hospital
bed cost for an inmate is three times as much as an inmate day in the prison
system ($195/day vs. $61.69/day) [9].
Several facilities described some of the ways in which they are combating
the problem of inmate-made weapons. In the commissary, some facilities offer
only small padlocks and pouched food. Other facilities reduce the amount of
personal property an inmate can possess in the facility. They also allow only
transparent appliances and small toothbrushes. Some issue razors one at a time
and require that they be checked back in after each use. Other ideas shared
included painting fence ties a bright color so that it is easy to see when one is
missing. Installing security-type screws on light fixtures and securing wall lockers
to cell walls was also suggested. Sealant placed around potential weaponsmaterial areas help staff to identify that tampering has occurred. Internal
processes mentioned were quarterly searches and internal audits.
In previous studies of violence among prison populations, it was
recommended that eating utensils, prison industry tools, and office devices be
redesigned because of their frequent use in acts of violence [9]. As a result of
this survey, the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University
(JHU/APL) is conducting a study of materials and mechanical design changes
focused on commissary items most commonly used for weapons. Razor blades
found on disposable razors typically distributed to inmates or available in the
commissary are strong enough to retain their shape and cutting function when
they are extracted from the plastic handles. These loose blades can then be
attached to other materials forming an extended-length blade. The JHU/APL has
designed a modified blade that can retain its form in the manufacturing process
and during its intended use for shaving, but will break into very short pieces
under the mechanical stresses that would occur when an inmate tried to
disassemble the razor.
Razors and toothbrushes are low-cost commodity items typically
fabricated from thermoplastic polymers that can be reformed using heat to soften
or melt the polymer. When it cools, a thermoplastic returns to a solid structure

30

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

that can perform its designed mechanical function. An inmate will use heat to
soften the polymer handle of a toothbrush enough to allow it to hold blades
extracted from razors or other sharpened metallic objects. In other cases, the
hard thermoplastic material is abraded against concrete or other rough surfaces
to sharpen the end of the handle. The JHU/APL team has shown that the
standard polymers can be replaced by thermosetting polymers that are semiflexible or resilient when cured. The thermosetting materials cannot be melted
and reformed. Once fabricated, they retain their shape until they are destroyed,
for example by attempts to re-shape them. The flexible material cannot be
sharpened by abrading it, thus limiting the inmates’ uses of the material for
inflicting damage. The materials must be strong enough to perform their
designed function, but too weak to function as a shank or knife.
The same materials and design principles can be applied to eating
utensils, kitchen tools and possibly some medical items that inmates have
converted into weapons. In addition, some of the items of opportunity that have
been used as weapons, such as mop or broom handles, could be redesigned to
minimize their effectiveness as weapons.
Limitations
There are several limitations to this study. Since this survey was not
random among states, these findings cannot be generalized to the rest of the
country. All states were asked to participate. However, the states and facilities
that participated in the survey may be very different from those that did not.
The weapons data were not originally documented by the correctional
facilities for the study purpose. Across facilities, there may be different weapon
confiscation policies so there may be more weapons than those actually
confiscated or recorded. Facilities may also have different procedures once
weapons are confiscated. If there is burdensome paperwork, correctional
officers may have incentive not to document each weapon confiscated.
Recommendations
The following recommendations were developed based on these survey
results. A centralized reporting system of confiscated weapons and weapon-

31

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

related injuries in prisons should be established to identify the most serious
threats. In 1988, the National Academy of Sciences was asked to assess
violence in the United States. The academy considered prisons “special places”
and spent time reviewing prison violence. One recommendation called for
establishment of an injury surveillance system in prisons [10]. This
recommended system was intended to collect information on violent events and
help direct risk factor research on violence. Such research could lead to violence
prevention interventions. A surveillance system could also include information on
confiscated weapons. This type of system would help facilities across the
country by collecting much-needed data on weapons, sources of material and
injury trends that would facilitate risk-factor interventions. If centralized reporting
is not possible, we recommend that facilities conduct similar surveillance as this
study to identify emerging problems within their facilities.
In 1999, a survey was conducted to determine inmate injury monitoring
across all facilities in the US. Of those that responded, 32 (89%) did conduct
some form of inmate injury monitoring [11]. However, no centralized location
existed for these surveillance systems. In the mid-1990s, Michigan developed a
pilot surveillance system to collect information on injuries experienced by
inmates. However, this system included little information on the weapon used in
an injury or any information on confiscated weapons [12]. The authors could not
find any information on centralized surveillance systems for weapons confiscated
in correctional facilities.
Facilities should seek measures to further reduce not only injuries to staff
but also the risk of inmate-on-inmate violence. The U.S. incarcerates more than
2 million people and that number is increasing; state and federal governments
must provide the funding to ensure that both inmates and correctional staff are
secure [13]. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many of the weapons are for
defensive purposes, often against the threat of sexual assault. Policies altering
interaction among inmates and the response of staff members to fights as well as
environmental measures such as eliminating blind spots and private showers
may reduce injury rates [8, 14]. Although not the focus of this study, inmates’

32

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

lack of control over their environment in prison as well as the cost of their injuries
makes it incumbent upon the states to ensure their safety.
Inmates are resourceful and probably will always be able to come up with
new weapons. Prisons and other places of incarceration, however, are
controlled environments and therefore have great potential to reduce the number
of weapons in these facilities. {Sentence on APL study} Facilities, equipment,
fixtures, and procedures should be continually upgraded to eliminate sources of
weapons. Programs like the Vulnerability Assessment Process, where the
effectiveness of the overall security system is analyzed [15], could include the
identification of source material for weapons and potential hiding places for
contraband. Facilities should also share solutions for reducing the materials that
can be made into weapons.
Our communications with prison facility personnel had one message in
common: they are always on the lookout for homemade weapons and for
materials that can be made into weapons. Our results provide guidance for
identifying materials and/or objects that should be redesigned so they cannot be
modified to inflict injury. In particular, objects such as razors and padlocks that
are issued to inmates or purchased from the commissary deserve special
attention because prisons have some control over the design and choice of such
items. Further research such as that being conducted at the Applied Physics
Laboratory should prove useful in eliminating materials that can be modified into
weapons.

Acknowledgments: The authors would like to thank all of the correctional staff
that participated in the survey and the consultation group with whom we met
throughout the study period. We would also like to acknowledge Gwen Bergen
and Janani Venkateswaran for their assistance in data entry, cleaning and
coding. The Applied Physics Lab staff members who assisted in this project

33

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

include Emily Ward and Jack Roberts and the technical support staff from APL
includes Steve Main, Antonio Munoz, Gary Peck and Bob Wright.

References:
[1] New Jersey State of Policeman’s Benevolent Association (NJSPBA) Website
www.njspba.com/corrections_officers_statistics.htm accessed June 21, 2003.

[2] Hunter ME, Love CC. Types of Weapons and Patterns of Use in a Forensic
Hospital. Hospital and Community Psychiatry, Nov 1993, Vol 44 no 11. pg.
1082-1085.

[3] Hayden JW, Laney C, Kellermann AL. Medical Devices Made Into Weapons
by Inmates: An Unrecognized Risk. Annals of Emergency Medicine, Dec 1995,
26:6 pg. 739-42.

[4] Whitaker TE, Katz SE, Lubow M, Orbital “shanking”: a unique prison injury,
Orbit, 1999, Vol. 18, No. 4. pg. 273-9.

[5] Lawrence BA, Miller TR, Jensen AF, Fisher DA, and Zamula WW (2000)
“Estimating the costs of non-fatal consumer product injuries in the United States”,
Injury Control and Safety Promotion 7(2): 97-113.

[6] Hayes W. Assault, Battery and Injury of Correctional Officers by inmates: An
Occupational Health Study, April, 1985. Dissertation—Johns Hopkins University.

[7] National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Website.
http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/chartbook/pdfs/Chartbook_2004_Prepub.pdf
Accessed June 22, 2004. Prepublication copy of Worker Health Chart book of
2004 pg. 78.

34

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

[8] Dietz PE, Rada RT. Battery Incidents and Batterers in a Maximum Security
Hospital, Arch Gen Psychiatry 1982;39:31-34.

[9] Bragg, WD, Hoover EL, Turner, EA, Nelson-Knuckles B, Weaver WL. Profile
of Trauma Due to Violence in a Statewide Prison population. Southern Medical
Journal, 1992, Vol. 85, No. 4, pg. 365-9.

[10] National Research Council. Understanding and preventing violence. Reiss
A, Roth J, eds. Washington, DC: National Academy Press 1993: 152-5, 336.

[11] Thornburn KM, Injury Monitoring in US Prison Systems, letter to the editor,
JAMA, August 4, 1999, Vol 281, No. 5, pg. 430-1.

[12] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Injury Surveillance in
Correctional Facilities—Michigan, April 1994-March 1995. MMWR 1995;45(no.
3) pg 69-72.

[13] Harrison PM, Beck AJ. Inmates in 2002. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau
of Justice Statistics Bulletin, July 2003, NCJ 200248.

[14] Mair JS, Mair M. Violence prevention and control through environmental
measures. Annu. Rev. Public Health 2003;24:209-24.

[15] Turner A. Developing a Vulnerability-Assessment Process for Corrections.
Correction Today Magazine, July 2003; pg. 26

35

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Figure 1: Hairbrush modified into a stabbing device

Figure 2: Percent Distribution of Weapons Confiscated or Used in Attack
on Prisoners and Staff

60
50
40
30
20
10
0
Shank

Dagger

Confiscated

Razor

Sap

Used on Prisoner

Club

Other/Unk

Used on Staff

36

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Table 1: Weapons Confiscated and Used to Injure
Weapons
Description

Confiscated

Injured Inmates

Injured Staff

N

%

N

%

N

%

Shank

364

34

62

31

3

8

Dagger

292

27

16

8

4

11

Razor

242

22

23

11

4

11

Sap

99

9

34

17

1

3

Club

73

7

43

21

20

54

3

0

13

6

1

3

13

1

2

1

3

8

0

0

10

5

1

3

1086

100

203

100

37

100

Hot substance
Other
Unknown
Total

37

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Table 2: Weapons Used to Injure by Security Levels
Weapons Used to

Security Levels

Injure

Medium
N

Maximum

%

N

Mixed

%

N

%

Shank

26

32%

16

20%

23

29%

Club

14

17%

27

34%

22

28%

Sap

12

15%

7

9%

16

20%

Dagger

9

11%

8

10%

3

4%

Razor

7

9%

12

15%

8

10%

Heat

6

7%

2

3%

6

8%

Other

8

10%

7

9%

1

1%

Total

82

100%

79

100%

79

100%

38

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Table 3: Materials from Which Weapons were Made
Weapons

Confiscated

Description

Injured inmates

Injured Staff

N

%

N %

N

%

Misc. metal

420

39

Misc. metal

35 17

Broom or dustpan

15

41

Materials

Razor

242

22

Lock

33 16

Razor

4

11

Weapons

Lock

84

8

Razor

23 11

Misc. metal

3

8

Made From

Misc. wood

56

5

Hot liquid

13

6

Brush

3

8

wire/rack

45

4

Hot pot

7

3

Pen, pencil

2

5

Misc. plastic

29

3

Broom handle

6

3

181

17

29

3

1086

100

Misc.

Other
Unknown
Total

Other

55 27

Other

7

19

Unknown

31 15

Unknown

3

8

37

100

Total

203 100

Total

39

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Table 4: Weapons Confiscated and Used to Injure: Source of Materials
Weapons

Confiscated

Description Source

Source of

Materials

Injured inmates
N%

Source

Injured Staff
N%

Source

N%

Commissary

277 26

Commissary

60 30

Issued

4 11

Kitchen

108 10

Issued

15

7

Staff supplies

4 11

Housing
area/cell

43

4

Offender

6

3

Commissary

2

5

Maintenance

35

3

Maintenance

6

3

Maintenance

1

3

Housing

Housing

Office

21

2

area/cell

5

2

area/cell

1

3

Issued

19

2

Dining Hall

5

2

Storeroom

1

3

Cleaning
Offender

19

2

Fence

4

2

supplies

1

3

Yard

4

2

Offender

1

3

9

Other

141 13

Other

19

Unk. Source

423 39

Unk. Source

79 39

Total

1086 100

Total

203 100

Unk. Source

22 59

Total

37 100

40

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Table 5: Injury rates per prison populations and worker population with 95% confidence
intervals
Security Level

Injuries to Inmates

Total inmate
population

#

Rates per 1,000

Injuries to Staff
#

Rates per 1,000 inmates

inmates
Medium Security

47,894

75

1.57

(1.21, 1.92)

7

0.15

(0.04, 0.25)

Maximum Security

47,379

72

1.52

(1.17, 1.87)

7

0.15

(0.04, 0.26)

Mixed Security

31,355

56

1.79

(1.32, 2.25)

23

0.73

(0.43, 1.03)

Total

126,628

203

1.60

(1.38, 1.82)

37

0.29

(0.20, 0.39)

Total staff

#

Rates per 1,000

#

population
Medium Security

13,986

Rates per 1,000 staff

staff
75

5.36

(4.15, 6.58)

7

0.50

(4.36, 6.98)

Maximum Security
12,690

72

5.67

Mixed Security

11,511

56

4.86

Total

38,187

203

5.32

(0.13, 0.87)
(0.14, 0.96)

7

0.55

(3.59, 6.14)

23

2.00

(1.18, 2.81)

(4.58, 6.05)

37

0.97

(0.66, 1.28)

41

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Appendix 4 – Current Results on Non-metals Detection Study
May 2005
J. C. Roberts, Ph.D. and P. J. Biermann
Background
A comprehensive search was made of the major companies that manufacture security
devices and the results are given in the Bibliography. These devices fall into the category
of walk through, hand held, passive millimeter wave, active holographic imaging systems
and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) systems. Walk through devices are used in,
for example: airports, prisons, banks, office buildings, nuclear facilities, schools, hotels,
amusement parks and courthouses. A number of the walk through devices target the
ability to monitor high traffic areas with good accuracy to detect small devices.
According to manufacturer’s claims some can detect magnetic as well as non-magnetic
items. Most personal items such as coins, keys, belt buckle, and etc. can pass through a
magnetic field undetected (which may be good or bad). Most manufacturers claim that
their detection systems can provide uniform detection throughout the entire detector (top
to bottom and side to side), some come in waterproof versions and some can be
disassembled and moved easily (portable). Other manufacturers target ferrous and nonferrous items such as disposable prison razors, a piece of a razor blade, metal shanks and
handcuff keys. However, none could be found that will detect non-metallic devices such
as hard plastic knives.

Hand held detectors are less expensive and can scan closer to the body over the whole
body and can pick up a hat pin at a distance of 1 inch from the body. Some have variable
sensitivity that allows the scanner to conduct a super high sensitivity search sweep of the
body or to scan the feet with less sensitivity to the background metal floor. One hand
held device (Mediascan) used for detecting items in body cavities are advertised as being
non-intrusive, reliable and inexpensive. It can detect razors blades, knives, hacksaw
blades, shanks, nails, drill bits, tools, bullets, etc. The sensors are housed in a frame or a
chair and an oral or nasal scanner is mounted on the side of the chair frame. They claim
to allow detection of ferrous and non-ferrous metals. One of the weapons that are of

42

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

major concern is a knife called the “Busse Stealth Hawk” that is invisible to metal
detectors. It is made of a non-metallic laminate known as MP45 and it is 4 ½ inches
long. The blade is strong enough to go through steel drums, car windows and door
planks without damage to the knife and can be purchased on the web. Metal detectors
respond to anything metallic, such as keys, change, belt buckles and metal implant. But it
doesn’t detect low-metal and non-metal weapons, including plastic explosives.

There are millimeter-wave systems under development which are capable of more
accurate imaging of the non-metal items. The FAA is considering two approaches to
weapons detection using millimeter wave systems. One system uses active millimeter
waves and the other passive millimeter waves. The technology is based on the fact that
every object generates electromagnetic emissions at millimeter wavelength with intensity
proportional to the object’s physical temperature. Millivision, a developer of security
products (Northhampton, MA) is developing a system based on passive millimeter
waves. It’s passive because the wave-imaging camera emits no signal. The technology
measures naturally occurring electromagnetic waves produced by the object being
viewed. The human body is highly emissive, which presents a ‘warm’ background on a
monitor. Metal objects have near zero emissivity and appear cold against the body.
Plastics and ceramics have emissivities higher than metals, but lower than human flesh,
so they also have contrast against the body. For reference point they use a black body,
which represents zero reflectivity. Table I shows the reflectivity of a number of objects.

Table I Reflectivity of different materials
Object

Reflectivity%

Human skin

5

Plastics

30-70, depending upon type

Paper

30-70, depending on moisture content

Ceramics

30-70

Water

50

Metal gun

100

43

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

There is a drawback to this technology and that is cost. Although at the present time it is
not cost effective, the technology should be considered for the future. In contrast to the
passive millimeter waves, the millimeter wave holographic radar developed by Pacific
Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) uses active millimeter waves for detecting metals,
plastic, and other objects. It essentially bounces waves of the object being scanned, then
reads and images the reflected waves. Millimeter wave technology could be used to:
detect underground mines or metal objects, provide remote searches by law enforcement,
image through walls is hostage and terrorist situations, provide video surveillance,
provide use in courtrooms and government buildings and act as a vision system for pilots
to see through fog, snow, etc. Table II gives a comparison between millimeter wave
technology and standard metal detectors.

Table II Comparison between standard metal detectors and millimeter wave technology

Metal Detection Method

Principal of operation

Metal Detectors

Millimeter Wave Technology

x

x

Screens people

x

Detects plastic Weapons

x

Detects explosives

x

Detects narcotics

x

Detects metal weapons

x

x

Multiple configurations (e.g. hand,
wand, etc.)
Posses no known health threats

x

x

x

x

FAA endorsed

x

Another technology, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) system, is a type of
automatic identification system. The purpose of the RFID system is to enable data to be
transmitted by a portable device, called a tag, which is read by an RFID reader and
processed according to the needs of a particular application. The data transmitted by the
44

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

tag may provide identification or location information. These tags come in a variety of
shapes and sizes. Some tags are easy to spot, such as the hard plastic anti-theft tags
attached to merchandise in stores. Animal tracing tags which are implanted beneath the
skin of family pets or endangered species are no bigger than a small section of pencil
lead. Even smaller tags have been developed to be embedded within the fibers of national
currency. With this in mind, milli- to micro-size tags could be developed that are placed
in plastic knives, forks, etc. so if they were to be whittled into weapons could be detected.
Along with regular scanning of the prisoners a thorough scanning of prisons cells would
have to be done on a regular basis.
Terahertz waves are generated when electric current is made to oscillate backwards and
forwards at frequencies of 0.1 to 10 THz. This means that the electrons that make up the
current are changing direction 10,000,000,000,000 times every second! At the 10 THz
end of the terahertz spectrum the waves are also referred to as the 'far infrared' and
behave more or less like optical waves. At the low frequency end of the terahertz
spectrum the waves are know as 'millimeter waves' and behave more or less like radio
waves. The terahertz region is the region of the electromagnetic spectrum where radio
waves and optical waves merge. Consequently the techniques used for their generation
and detection rely on a mixture of optical and radio wave techniques. Such systems might
use aerials, lenses, mirrors and circuits. Because of this the technology is often referred to
as 'quasi optics'.
At 0.1 THz the waves can be detected using a radio which operates in much the same
way as a car radio. The only difference is that the aerial or antenna is only a millimeter
long. The whole radio can fit into an area of only 2 mm2. Because of this the technology
relies on extremely precise components which until recently have been incredibly
expensive (it is not unusual for a single terahertz component to cost more than 75,000
Euros). Due to the expense, terahertz systems have only really been used in areas of
technology where cost is not an issue such as Space Science and Astronomy. Recently,
however, the cost of manufacture has been dramatically reduced such that newer
everyday uses may be envisaged. This has been possible by borrowing some of the
technologies that have been developed by the silicon chip industry.
45

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Bibliography

Adams Electronics, Inc., www.adamsinc.com
Clinton

Electronics

is

mentioned

with

the

company

and

makes

SMARTGate.

http://www.supercomgroup.com/info_page.asp?info_id=288

and

http://www.supercomgroup.com/info_page.asp?info_id=471

CEIA, http://www.ceia.net/

Control Screening, LLC, www.controlscreening.com

Perkin Elmer, www.perkinelmer.com

EG&G Technical Services, http://www.egginc.com/albuquerque/albuquerque.htm

Ranger, www.securitysale.com

Garrett Metal Detectors, www.garrett.com

Heimann Systems, Smiths-Heimann, http://www.smiths-heimann-pid.com/

Fisher Research Laboratory, http://www.fisherlab.com/

Metorex, www.metor.net

Rapiscan, www.rapiscan.com

Shiebel Technology, http://www.schiebel.com/

46

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Sirchie Fingerprint Labs., http://www.sirchie.com/

TorfinoEnterprise,Inc,http://www.business.com/bdcframe.asp?ticker=&src=http%3
A//rd.business.com/index.asp%3Fbdcz%3Di.l.l.ml.e%26bdcr%3D24%26bdcu%3Dht
tp%253A//torfino.com/%26bdcs%3D4150FAF7-CD47-4313-B913C5292073AB95%26bdcf%3D80c52b2e-d2ce-11d3-82d000c04f01021c%26bdcp%3D%26partner%3Dbdc%26title%3DTorfino%2520Enterpri
ses%252C%2520Inc.&back=http%3A//www.business.com/directory/industrial_good
s_and_services/industrial_supplies/detectors/metal_detectors/&path=/directory/indust
rial_goods_and_services/industrial_supplies/detectors/metal_detectors

Vallon GmbH, http://www.vallon.de

White’s Electronics, Inc. http://www.whiteselectronics.com/homewhites.html

Gaffco, http://www.gaffco.com/

EPIC, www.epic.org

Tamiami, www.tamiamiarmor.com
Terahertz wave Technology, http://www-ece.rice.edu/~daniel/papers/TRAYimaging.pdf
http://www.att.com/news/0595/950525.bla.html,
http://www.att.com/news/0595/950525.trays.html
http://www.picometrix.com/t-ray/
http://www-ece.rice.edu/~daniel/papers/TRAYimaging.pdf

47

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Appendix 5 – ACA Article
Published: Corrections Today, Feb. 2006, pp 68-70

Improving Correctional Officer Safety:
Reducing Inmate Weapons.
Problem Definition
While the threat faced by the police officer is most frequently from firearms, a
corrections officer faces an entirely different variety of threats. It is rare for an inmate to
have a firearm within a correctional facility. The most common threat faced by correction
facility staff is from pointed- and sharp-edged weapons. Most of these are homemade or
improvised weapons, obtained through a variety of sources in the corrections
environment. These source items include toothbrushes, locks, safety razors and broken
glass. For example, a common misuse of toothbrushes is to sharpen them for stabbing
and to reshape them to hold sharp metal blades.

The Corrections Threat
While the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports Law Enforcement Officers Killed and
Assaulted (LEOKA) report provides detailed insight into the nature and types of assaults
on police officers, there are no comparable details currently maintained for assaults on
corrections officers. In 1988, 23 corrections officers were attacked with weapons while
123 were attacked without weapons. In 1990, the last year that data was collected by the
Department of Justice, there were 185 assaults on federal corrections officers. Between
1990 and 1995 there was a 33% increase in the number of assaults by inmates on
corrections facility staff. In 1990, there were 10,731 reported assaults by inmates on
corrections facility staff; in 1995, there were 14,165 reported assaults. The nature of the
assaults has become more severe as well. In 1990, none of the reported assaults
resulted in the death of the staff member who was assaulted. By comparison, in 1995,
14 staff members were killed as a result of the assault. 3
More than twice as frequent are the number of prisoner assaults on other
prisoners. Approximately 3% of prisoners are assaulted and injured by other prisoners
3

Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2001. US DOJ, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice
Statistics, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/ascii/pjim01.txt
48

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

each year in federal prisons. The probability of similar assaults is almost four times
higher in state prisons. A reduction of weapon availability or effectiveness is expected to
also reduce the number and severity injuries from prisoner assaults on other prisoners.
Identification and Evaluation of Unconventional Weapons
To address the data collection and analysis JHU has assembled a working group
consisting of 14 members to analyze data in a scientific manner on unconventional
weapons, their frequency and cost to the corrections system. The group is made up of 8
members that are practitioners from the correctional community, and 6 members from
JHU staff.

Alex Fox

Mass. Department of Corrections

Robert Greene

Montgomery Co. MD Dept. of Corrections & Rehabilitation

Jack Harne

NLECTC

John Kenney

Hamden Co. MA, House of Corrections

Mike Maloney

Mass. Department of Corrections

Al Turner

National Institute of Justice

John Ely

Federal Bureau of Prisons

Reggie Wilkinson

Ohio Dept. of Rehabilitation & Corrections

Suzanne Baker

JHU/Center for Injury Research & Policy

Lily Chen
Jennifer Lincoln
Julie Mair

Paul Biermann

JHU/APL

Emily Ward

The survey of correctional agencies was conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center
for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) with input from the working group.
Participating states and the number of institutions contacted in each state:
Arizona
Indiana
Louisiana
Michigan

5 facilities
3 facilities
4 facilities
9 facilities

49

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Missouri
New Jersey
Ohio
Pennsylvania
Texas
Utah

6 facilities
11 facilities
6 facilities
8 facilities
16 facilities
1 facility

The survey was designed to elicit information about the sequence of events, the
nature of the improvised weapon (size, shape, what it was made from and how, etc.) if
known, and the consequences (threat vs. physical injury, severity of injury, number of
persons injured).
Analysis of the survey results produced a prioritized list of targets for engineering
solutions to improvised weapons.
Prioritized List:
1. Razors
1. Hard Plastic Stock (Polymer cannot be detected)
2. Personal Locks
3. Toothbrushes
4. Mop/Broom Handles
5. Fencing Material

Prototype Design and Fabrication
Based on the prioritized list JHU/APL staff developed proposed solution designs
for each of the items on the list. A separate study was started of the hard plastic stock
detection problem.
Prototype handles for razors and toothbrushes have been fabricated
incorporating both materials and design changes that will not allow them to be melted or
reformed with heat. They also cannot be sharpened by abrasion. In the first models the
area near the head is a firmer polymer that supports the mechanical loads normally
exerted during the brushing action. Only the bristle area is fabricated from traditional
materials, although it could be modified if required. See Figure 1.
The same approach was used for the modified razor handle and could also be
used on comb and brush handles, eating utensils and any other common items currently
molded from thermoplastic polymers. See Figure 2.

50

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Figure 1. Thermosetting polymer toothbrush prototype with soft handle.

Figure 2. Modified razor handle using non-reformable materials.

Figure 3 shows the remodeled prototypes for the tooth brush and razor handles.
The shapes were modified to allow the use of a cardboard rod stiffener also shown in the
image. Figure 4 shows the two types of razor handle models. The shorter and thicker
tapered handle can be fabricated without the use of an internal stiffener. Figure 5 shows
the modified razor blade. The slots are cut to within a short distance of the cutting edge
using electron discharge machining or EDM. When the blades are bonded into the

51

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

holder shown in Figure 2, the slots create weak spots that will break if an attempt is
made to remove the blade from the holder. Figure 6 shows a prototype mop/broom
handle that has been fabricated that will not deliver large side impact forces if used to
strike a target. The handle has a stiff foam core and is covered with a softer flexible
foam outer shell to reduce damage when struck against a person. In this example a
lightweight broom head has also been fabricated using the stiff foam material with some
internal stiffening rods. Figure 7 shows the flexibility of the handle that will bend first and
then break before inflicting severe damage.

Figure 3: Modified models for toothbrush and razor handles shown with cardboard rod
stiffener.

Figure 4: Two designs for razor handles shown with the hard plastic inserts used to
attach the blade holder.

52

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Figure 5: Slotted blades designed to break up when removed from the razor.

Figure 6: Lightweight broom handle and head designed to reduce damage if used to
strike someone.

Figure 7: Lightweight broom handle can deflect before breaking.
53

This document is a research report submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice. This report has not
been published by the Department. Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s)
and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Technology Transfer to the Corrections Community
JHU/APL has initiated contacts with UNICOR, part of the Federal Bureau of
Prisons. They have a very large manufacturing operation covering numerous
technologies including plastics manufacturing. We are also looking at state prison
manufacturing facilities and commercial companies that supply the corrections world.

54

 

 

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