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From push broom to deadly weapon – how COs can protect themselves and others from inmate-created shanks

Replacing cleaning supplies with these tools can help boost facility safety

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Correctional agencies that use these shank-free products report the assault rate in their facilities has been reduced by 40% while cleaning tasks are performed.

Briarwood Products

Although the daily experience of an inmate is far different from that of the general public, that doesn’t mean they are automatically insulated from danger. Inmates are prone to accidents, drug overdoses and alcohol intoxication just like the rest of society, with one statistic sharply on the rise – homicide.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Mortality in Correctional Institutions Program, formerly the Deaths in Custody Reporting Program, tracks inmate deaths in state and federal prisons. In 2019 alone, 143 inmates were victims of homicide. It was the highest number reported since the inception of the program in 2000, and almost four times the figure reported in 2001.

A study published in 2006 demonstrates just how dangerous correctional facilities can be for COs as well. Data from 1999 showed more than 2,400 correctional workers in the United States required medical attention following assaults by inmates.

While the data in both studies isn’t segmented to indicate the exact manner in which each attack occurred, it’s safe to assume a number of them were the result of a stabbing using a makeshift weapon, or shank. Crafted from a wide variety of materials, shanks can be easy to conceal and are used to create puncture wounds that can lead to serious injury or death.


The use of shanks isn’t always to achieve a fatal outcome, though. In some instances, inmates make these weapons for personal protection. Yet no matter the motivation, correctional officers must pay close attention to the presence of shanks.

Obvious items like scrap metal or a sharpened toothbrush can be easy to spot, but inmates will often turn to another type of object when trying to make a shank – cleaning supplies. Broom or mop handles can be broken and sharpened while even a seemingly innocuous dust pan can be modified to become deadly.

COs should regularly examine standard cleaning tools for manipulation. Signs an item has been tampered with include unusual chips or cracks as well as any indication that the tool has been repaired to portray a normal appearance. These inspections are critical for the safety and security within a facility, but consider how much easier it would be if cleaning tools couldn’t be modified at all.


Agencies can easily and effectively increase the safety of inmates and officers by opting for shank-free correctional tools by Briarwood Products. Designed from a specialized polymer and completely metal-free, Briarwood Products’ catalog of supplies are fully interchangeable and made in the United States.

The tools prevent bacteria growth, do not conduct electricity and are chemical-resistant, but most importantly, cannot be broken or sharpened into a shank. Most of the items are bonded with adhesive to create a solid unit that cannot be disassembled by inmates. Brushes and brooms feature bristles fused into the base to maintain a metal-free assembly.

For those who aren’t sure where to start, Briarwood Products offers The Ultimate Shank-Free Cleaning Kit, which includes commonly used items like a dustpan, angled broom, push broom, mop holder and multiple types of scrubbing brushes, among other tools. Replacement or additional supplies can be purchased separately as needed.

Correctional agencies that use these shank-free products report the assault rate in their facilities has been reduced by 40% while cleaning tasks are performed. Briarwood Products has also recently launched two new items to its expanding line-up of cleaning supplies – a trash can and a toilet bowl brush holder that are both fire-retardant, further increasing the level of safety in any facility that uses these items.


A family-owned company founded in 1993, Ohio-based Briarwood Products stands behind every tool they manufacture. To that end, each item in their shank-free correctional catalog is put through rigorous testing to ensure it meets the company’s safety standards.

The team pulls several items from every production run and conducts a series of “torture tests” before sending out orders. Broom and mop handles are bent and twisted at least 45 degrees in several directions to make sure they don’t crack or break. Items are also scraped against hard surfaces like concrete as well as cut with knives, confirming the material can’t be sharpened into a weapon.

Bristled items are tested using a machine that applies up to 45 pounds of pressure, and mop backbones are twisted and inspected for splintering. Any conceivable modification an inmate could try to make to a cleaning tool is simulated by Briarwood Products, with their products’ extreme durability proven before reaching customers’ hands.

Protecting the safety of inmates and COs is a top priority for every facility. Instead of running the risk of cleaning supplies being turned into shanks, agencies can eliminate that possibility by using tools by Briarwood Products.

Visit Briarwood Products for more information.

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Courtney Levin is a Branded Content Project Lead for Lexipol where she develops content for the public safety audience including law enforcement, fire, EMS and corrections. She holds a BA in Communications from Sonoma State University and has written professionally since 2016.