Crime & Courts

Shank in an inmate’s sock: Jail pulls off building-wide sweep for homemade weapons

File photo of inmates at the Sedgwick County Jail in Wichita.
File photo of inmates at the Sedgwick County Jail in Wichita. The Wichita Eagle

Authorities found three homemade shanks and a metal outlet plate that could be sharpened into one during an evening-long sweep across the Sedgwick County Jail, prompted by a recent rise in weapons discovered during routine cell searches.

Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office Col. Brian White said only seven of the more than 1,000 inmates housed at the Sedgwick County Jail refused to cooperate with Thursday’s extensive search, adding that many appreciated the steps toward increased safety.

“A number of inmates want us to find these items,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for us to receive information from an inmate that’s in here about improper behavior that’s occurring and zero us in on where that shank might be.”

White said after dinnertime, inmates were locked in their cells until staff searched them one-by-one for any dangerous contraband that could be fashioned into a homemade weapon.

It took around 100 Sheriff’s Office employees and three Wichita police officers about five hours to comb through all 22 jail pods. The jail currently has 1,158 beds and 1,164 inmates.

Three of the four dangerous items seized were hidden in cells. One shank was stuffed into an inmate’s sock.

Homemade weapons — known as shanks — can be created from a variety of common items found in a prison or jail, including metal strike plates on doors, outlet covers, toilet bowl cleaning brushes, shower curtain rings and the stems of eyeglasses.

White said authorities filed a number of reports connected to Thursday’s discoveries and some inmates might be disciplined or face criminal charges. He apologized for any scheduled inmate visitations that were canceled and other services that shut down during the search but said jail staff and inmate safety is paramount.

Facility-wide sweeps are rare at the Sedgwick County Jail; one of this type hasn’t been done in years, White said.

But a noticeable, unexplained increase in weapons confiscated over the past four months made authorities concerned about the number still out there.

Last year, the jail cut 48 cases for inmates found with dangerous contraband like shanks or drugs.

So far this year there have been 37, Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Tim Myers said.

“Sometimes it’s the unknown that’s the biggest concern,” White said, referring to Thursday’s search.

Luckily, “it wasn’t as bad as we thought it was.”

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Amy Renee Leiker has been reporting for The Wichita Eagle since 2010. She covers crime, courts and breaking news and updates the newspaper’s online databases. You can reach her at 316-268-6644. She’s an avid reader and mom of three in her non-work time.