Violence in prisons is no real surprise. Considering the US has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, putting that many people inside a crowded area for extended periods will eventually lead someone to lash out. When I think of a prison stabbing, someone making a shiv out of a toothbrush by sharpening one end comes to mind. But never really thought about what else could be used as a prison weapon.


Turns out, when someone wants to hurt someone, they can get pretty crafty. I found a 2006 study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information that featured input from 70 prisons around the country, and of the 1326 weapons that were confiscated, there were some pretty wild weapons confiscated. It is important to note that this is an older study and some information may be outdated, but these weapons are still prevalent today.

These were the top 5 weapons collected by prison staff.


#1 Shank - 364/1326

The most common item confiscated is a shank. A shank is a homemade knife. I mentioned the toothbrush earlier, but one can be fashioned with anything so long as a point is sharp enough to stab someone. These are typically pretty hodgepodge together, but as you can see from the hairbrush above, really can be made from anything. If you want to see 8 real shanks, you can here.


toothbrush on a white background



#2 Dagger 292/1086

A dagger and a shank are fairly similar with one key difference. While they both can be a knife, a dagger is different in that it is "always symmetrical, and both sharp edges always go down to a point." So while a shank is typically a stabbing weapon, a dagger is more multi-faceted. They are fairly interchangeable.


National Center for Biotechnology Information
A hairbrush modified into a stabbing device. / National Center for Biotechnology Information


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#3 Razor Blade 242/1086

A razor blade is the most well-known type of weapon due to how readily available it is. All one needs to do to get this is pop it out of the razor. Anyone who has cut themselves shaving knows how sharp and potentially dangerous these are. JenJen Gomez, a woman in Florida who was in an all-woman prison for 10 years, says these were some of the most common weapons she saw because of how easy it was to get.


Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash


#4 Sap 99/1086

This was a term I had never heard of before, but according to the study, a sap is "an item that has a heavyweight at the end of a flexible handle." The study uses a padlock in a sock as an example since if you put that in a sock you can swing that at someone and do some hefty damage.


Photo by Roth Melinda on Unsplash
Photo by Roth Melinda on Unsplash


#5 Club 73/1086

Clubs come in fifth as the most common weapons and are defined as "unmodified objects such as pitchers, hot pots, and broom handles." These are everyday items that can be used as a weapon in their natural state, or weapons of opportunity. It's difficult for these to be confiscated until they've been used violently as people who use them most likely use them properly.


Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash



A couple of final notes from the study: most of these items were made from "metal, razors, and padlocks" and "83% of the confiscated weapons were cutting or piercing instruments." If you ever find yourself in prison, these are the weapons to watch out for.


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