How Chicago Jail Officials Root Out Deadly Shanks From Cells


Once a month, Cook County Jail officials gather to discuss the county's most secret and deadly do-it-yourself craft projects: jail shanks, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Twenty-one such homemade weapons seized in November were passed around a conference table two weeks ago as Sheriff Tom Dart's Weapons Free Committee took mental notes on what to keep an eye out for. Shanks come in two varieties: slashers and pokers. “The real big slashing weapons are for intimidation,” says Michael Holmes, the assistant jail director. “Pokers are the worst. They go in and out, and sometimes they don't even bleed, but will catch a lung or a kidney.”

A committee member pauses on a poker made from a metal screw and begins to disassemble its crude grip: strips of fabric — probably torn from a uniform — tightly wound around a piece of unidentified brown cardboard. Like parents child-proofing their home, jail officials keep a list of mundane but potentially lethal objects that need to be purged: light fixture toggle bolts, old ceiling fans, metal pins on firehose casing. Every jail cell is searched randomly once or twice a week. Sheriff's police also offer incentives — including cheeseburgers, Italian beef sandwiches, candy and potato chips — for informants to offer up information on where shanks are hidden. The nervous face of an inmate whose cell is being searched is usually a dead giveaway that contraband is present.

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