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Contraband: Waste paper basket liner weapon

Waste can liners are used to maintain safety and health standards, but they can also become dangerous weapons

“What can this hurt?”

This is one of the questions that we hear from those who either cannot imagine the dangerous ingenuity of inmates or those who roll the dice of safety with reckless abandon. Yet, when a prisoner, a colleague, or a member of the public is hurt with ‘harmless’ contraband, we cannot turn back the clock and remove the seemingly innocuous item.

Trash can liners exist in almost all levels of confinement. They help keep the facility clean and are a tool of personal responsibility. Waste can liners are used to maintain safety and health standards.

The dark side to this is in the utility as a weapon. They can easily be used to smother an adversary. By placing a trash bag over the mouth and nose, one can subdue an unsuspecting person. Also, it is easy to use a trash bag as a choking mechanism.

Think of the strength of three trash bags used as one. I tested it with two strong adults playing tug o’ war with one that I made. The strength of three together is surpassingly strong. Creating a trash can liner garrote is simple and can be done with very little skill.

1. Knot three trash can liners together or bind with rubber band
2. Braid
3. Knot on the other end or bind with rubber band
4. You have a strong garrote
5. Many together can serve as a rope


Even if it is discovered, it may be overlooked as nothing. In fact, gullible or apathetic staff might allow a simple justification to dissuade from confiscation and the issuing of a misconduct report.


(This is made with 13 gallon bags.)

For example, a prisoner could tell staff that this is something to help with physical fitness. The offender explains that he hooks it to his bunk to serve as resistance. Of course, though this may be true in a few cases, it is an altered item. By definition, that makes it contraband.

In the end, you have to wonder if something that does not look dangerous will have a more sinister utility. A great example of this is the humble trash bag.

There are those that may ask, “Will I see many of these in my career?” They may not be omnipresent, but they do exist. If there is need, opportunity, and experience, then they are likely to be made and hidden.

There will be those who ask, “What can this hurt?” A valid answer is that perhaps it can assist in an escape or to end a life.

Joe Bouchard worked in a maximum correctional facility for 25 years and is now retired. He continues to write and present on many corrections topics. He is the former editor of The Correctional Trainer. Bouchard has been an instructor of corrections and criminal justice since 1999. He currently teaches at Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College. Bouchard also has online writing clips at He is also the author of three corrections books for LRP publications and 10 books for IACTP’s series of training exercises books. Order now.