Prison Shivs

A collection of 11 prison shivs confiscated over 20 years ago in New Jersey.

Think about these, and the adverse conditions they were made under, the next time you see someone's pocket knife being taken away from them at airport security. We can't keep weapons out of prisons; we can't possibly expect to keep them out of airports.

Posted on August 10, 2006 at 2:29 PM • 31 Comments

Comments

NicAugust 10, 2006 3:02 PM

Umm, I know that trans-continental flights are long, bat are they really long enough to "sharpen the back of a metal spoon on the concrete floor of the cell" -I mean plane?

Seriously. the rediculousness of confiscating nail clippers, while allowing lethal ball point pens on board have been wel discussed here previously.

McGavinAugust 10, 2006 3:27 PM

Maybe we should start running our airports like we run prisons?

The way things are going, it would be a smooth transition.

A.W.August 10, 2006 4:12 PM

As Nic pointed out. It'd have to be a heck of a long flight to make those, though I agree that current security measures can be rather silly.

cat blackAugust 10, 2006 4:17 PM

Anything can be used as a weapon. Women that attend self defense classes learn how to turn ordinary items in their purse or on their person into defensive weapons in a pinch. And what makes a good defense can become an offensive weapon as well. The security concerns might be real enough, but the response is either simple minded or cynical. Probably the former, alas.

Douglas KnightAugust 10, 2006 4:17 PM

While I agree with the conclusion, I think prisons are poor evidence. People don't want to keep weapons out of prisons. It's part of the punishment, just like rape.

RussAugust 10, 2006 4:19 PM

I have this mental image of passengers lined up to board a plane, all of them naked and in handcuffs. It's the logical end result.

averrosAugust 10, 2006 5:11 PM

> Maybe we should start running our airports
> like we run prisons?

> The way things are going, it would be a
> smooth transition.

Yep. This country is already a prison. Too bad most inmates are too stupid to understand that.

supersaurusAugust 10, 2006 5:29 PM

a rolled up magazine is a better weapon than a lot of things, if you know how to use it, however it will not open the pilot's door.

Joel SaxAugust 10, 2006 6:49 PM

Oh come on Bruce! You could have all passengers enter naked after a thorough cavity search, tie them up, and then stow them like sheaves!

Seriously, having studied the artfulness of criminals at Alcatraz prison over a twenty year period, I believe you are right about the ingenuity of those who want to have a weapon to have one. Think of that the next time you put down your plastic tray.

Stefan WagnerAugust 10, 2006 9:02 PM

Creating a blade from a spoon in a plane seems grotesk, but you could look around inside the plane, what might be useful to build an ad hoc weapon, and is already on board.

I'm flying rarely, so I can't spy it out myself.

chauvinistAugust 10, 2006 11:24 PM

> Women that attend self defense classes learn how to turn ordinary items ... into ... weapons ...

Obviously we should ban women from flying ... :-)

CotPAugust 11, 2006 1:03 AM

Here's how to have real airport security:

- Nothing personal is allowed onto the plane at all. You buy everything you need when you get there.
- This includes clothes. You will be issued a disposable hospital-type gown for the trip.
- The plane is filled not with seats, but with Japanese sleep-pods, top to bottom. These pods have locks on the outside.
- No leaving the pod during flight. Be sure to visit the restroom before boarding.
- To prevent bombs being carried in body cavities, everyone will be X-rayed, and given emetics and enemas before boarding, just to be sure.

Have a pleasant trip!

CFAugust 11, 2006 7:35 AM

As someone who worked in a prison, there are a few major notable differences that make the analogy totally flawed, although I do understand Bruce's point about even the most controlled, secure environments being vulnerable:

* People in jail have nothing to do all day but think about how to get out/get even with guards and other prisoners, and therefore have nothing but time to source parts and make weapons. Anything can be a weapon, and boredom allows for creativity and long term projects.

* Almost everyone in jail is a violent person and/or will use violence if they think it will let them get what they want. Fortunately, there are very few people like that on the outside and in planes.

* Passengers on an airplane do not share the same us against them attitude prisoners have. People would notice and say/do something about a person a row over and up creating a weapon out of his tray table, where in prison they won't.

mdfAugust 11, 2006 8:01 AM

The arguments about "not enough time" are silly: the terrorist will take his time before getting to the airport. Ditto about "violent person": the terrorist is violent, by definition. As for other people reporting strange behaviour: since the terrorist won't be grinding his tool on-board, there will be nothing to report until the weapon has been brandished (ie, too late).

Of the 12 weapons shown, one would probably make it onto the plane, not being metal and easily concealed on a person.

nbk2000August 11, 2006 8:14 AM

As someone who's been in prison as a involuntary 'guest', I must refute some of the statements of CF.

++++++++
quote:
People in jail have nothing to do all day but think about how to get out/get even with guards and other prisoners, and therefore have nothing but time to source parts and make weapons. Anything can be a weapon, and boredom allows for creativity and long term projects.
++++++++

Inmates don't typically sit around all day watching soap operas on cable TV while getting huge on the weighpile. They're too busy getting worked like slaves in prison industries contracted out by the state to corporations for slave-labor wages.

After working 12 hours, they get the privilege of being fed rancid food and then packed like chattel into dark filthy cells where you're practically stepping on top of each other.

All while being overseen by guards who aren't able to get any better jobs because of their lack of job skills, and who get off on petty powertrips.

Oh, and having to fend for themselves against the predators amoung them who seek depraved sex or cringing fear from their victims.

So is it any wonder that there are weapons, both for defense against the inner predators, and for revenge against the external tormentors?

++++++++
quote:
Almost everyone in jail is a violent person and/or will use violence if they think it will let them get what they want. Fortunately, there are very few people like that on the outside and in planes.
++++++++

The majority of people in american prisons are in there for non-violent drug offenses.

And just as there are good and bad neighborhoods on the streets, there are good and bad prisons.

Minimum security prisons are not known for having pscyho killers running around shanking other inmates for sport.

Maximum security prisons are.

And even within those prisons, the killers are the minority that cause problems, most of which are gang or gambling related.

So please don't believe the lie that everyone in prison is either violent or deserving of being there.

There's something wrong in the Land of the Free when it has more people per capita in prison than China or Russia.

CFAugust 11, 2006 8:21 AM

mdf: No, arguments around "not enough time" and others are not silly - they were in response to the idea that someone could be "clean" getting onto an airplane, then crafting something on board. In other words, getting past perfect security and still being able to do something.

The violence comment is about what expectations are and how we treat people. If there is a suspected specific threat in a prison, the whole prison is locked down, everyone's cells get tossed, and everyone is strip searched. I sure hope that we don't start assuming that everyone in an airport is equivalent to a muderer/rapist/jihadi like they do in prison.

CFAugust 11, 2006 8:36 AM

nbk2000: Your second point is essentially correct. I have seen people with no violence in their past become very violent in prison. That's why you have to assume any person can/will do anything to you.

Your first point, however, is not consistent with what I've seen. I'm in Canada, and there is no contracting out in the prisons here unless they volunteer for it. And the running joke among inmates was that people kept coming back to our institution because they got hungry. We all ate the same food (I was a social worker). I saw prisoners complain all the time about power-trip guards, but 90% of complaints were along the "I'm the victim - I don't deserve to be here - I didn't do anything" logic that got them there.

Sorry about taking this discussion off on a tangent.

LoraanAugust 11, 2006 9:43 AM

Every security mechanism can be compromised. Even if airport security were perfect, there would be ways to circumvent it. Security is a numbers game. Reduce the probability of a successful attack; reduce the cost of a successful attack; do all of this while spending less than cost * probability of a successful attack.

These arguments often seem to go, "Attackers can get a weapon onto a plane anyway, so disallowing things that could be used as a weapon is stupid." Sure, an attacker could sneak a weapon onto a plane, but that doesn't mean that we have to make it easy for them. Preventing overt weapons from getting onto a plane makes it that much harder for an attacker to have one. It adds a speed bump, and in my opinion, security is all about adding enough speed bumps that you catch the guy before he gets to the finish line, not about preventing him from running in the first place.

Now, if you're doing a cost-benefit analysis and you consider the cost to passengers of the security procedures, then weigh it against the cost of a successful attack--that's an analysis I could get into. If you're evaluating the effectiveness of security procedures--that's an analysis I could get into. But the whole, "Security doesn't work so get rid of it," argument is silly. Not that anybody's made that argument here, mind you.

Regarding martial arts: yeah, a trained martial artist might be just as dangerous as an untrained person with a weapon, but training in martial arts takes time, even when it's focused on quick-and-dirty techniques as opposed to more general self-defense/fighting techniques. Again, it's one more hurdle that a potential attacker has to clear before he or she can mount an attack with a reasonable probability of success.

AnonymousAugust 11, 2006 2:18 PM

I think the point is who really cares about knives on planes? An individual or small group taking over an aircraft by using that kind of weapon became obsolete before the day of September 11th, 2001 was even over as seen by the passenger revolt on United 93. In this day and age, pilots and crew will not give up control to placate hijackers and passengers will fight back.

PJAugust 11, 2006 2:26 PM

| Preventing overt weapons from getting onto a plane makes it that much harder for an attacker to have one.

Why are planes special? There are already laws about concealed carry and about carrying overt weapons like large knives and etc around; what makes a plane so different that you think it's okay to lower the bar of what qualifies as an 'overt weapon' until it contains my pocket knife?

Also, re: concealed carry - most of the people I know of with carry permits would probably be assets in the event of a hijacking, so I'd be more than willing to let them carry on a plane.

RyanAugust 11, 2006 4:33 PM

"Why are planes special?"

I'm going with, because you can fly them into buildings and kill 1000 people.

AnonymousAugust 11, 2006 4:35 PM

"There's something wrong in the Land of the Free when it has more people per capita in prison than China or Russia."

It's called diversity

decrepitoldfoolAugust 12, 2006 12:15 PM

I carry a useful pocketknife everywhere, and have never harmed another person for any reason. Yet many law enforcement officers would take it as evidence of violent intent. This is a lazy shorthand for identifying violent people.

It's hard to imagine what weapon would be needed to take over a plane today, but if a terrorist did manage to sneak one aboard, he'd have the luxury of a plane full of people who'd been stripped of everything they could possibly use in their own defense.

SpyderAugust 13, 2006 4:08 AM

As someone who likes to think realistically there are shocking similarities in Schneier's analogy which make CF's comments (Posted August 11, 2006 07:35 AM) totally flawed, Although I understand just why he would let his personal (emotional) experiences get in the way of his reasoning:

-------------------
Quote:
* People in jail have nothing to do all day but think about how to get out/get even with guards and other prisoners, and therefore have nothing but time to source parts and make weapons. Anything can be a weapon, and boredom allows for creativity and long term projects.

Response:
So do terrorists. Even worse, theirs is not for 'revenge' it is a fanatic totalitarian religious ideology. They spend all the time in a non confined environment, innovating, sharing knowledge and training to destroy.

-------------------
Quote:
* Almost everyone in jail is a violent person and/or will use violence if they think it will let them get what they want. Fortunately, there are very few people like that on the outside and in planes.

Response:
It may come as a surprise to CF but terrorists happen to have a violent side too. Comparing numbers is absolute bul**cks! All it takes is one terrorist to have his way and many people could be having a very bad day. One 'violent' person looking to cause havoc 'on the outside', CF, is one too many and should be finding their way to you for reforming.

-------------------
Quote:
* Passengers on an airplane do not share the same us against them attitude prisoners have. People would notice and say/do something about a person a row over and up creating a weapon out of his tray table, where in prison they won't.

Response:
Us against them? Hello?.... Does CF think the terrorists are looking at making as many friends as possible? And would they not be aware that they won't exactly have any friends on board? This is exactly why they'll be looking for ways of causing havoc which wouldn't arouse suspicion.

We're probably heading close to CotP's suggestion (August 11, 2006 01:03 AM) a lot quicker than we think.

StickmanAugust 24, 2006 1:03 AM

Loraan said "a trained martial artist might be just as dangerous as an untrained person with a weapon, but training in martial arts takes time." Well, terrorists take time to prepare and they do train, everything from empty hands to explosives. Seen videos from their camps? The 9/11 hijackers divided labor into those flying the planes and muscle to take them over. There's even some reasonable speculation what martial art training the latter had for the job.

BobOctober 22, 2006 10:11 AM

On the comment "This country is already a prison.", There is one difference, you can leave the country. If you feel that way, maybe you should take advantage of that.

Bruce SchneierOctober 23, 2006 11:25 AM

"Who can really do that, Bob? Very few nations will accept refugee claimants from the USA."

I agree. The whole "if you don't like it, leave the country" argument has always been a farce. Most people don't have the resources to change citizenship like that, and few countries will take random Americans as citizens. And most of us who "don't like it" actually feel very strongly about the United States, and don't just want to give up on the place. Staying and fixing the problems is far preferrable to leaving.

stupidheadFebruary 14, 2008 6:37 PM

"There's something wrong in the Land of the Free when it has more people per capita in prison than China or Russia."

What's China's execution rate like

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