Society seems to believe that violence is inevitable in our over-crowded prison systems. Faced with limited resources, inmates have been ingenious in finding ways to fashion deadly weapons out of common items like toothbrushes and shaving razors—and using these makeshift weapons to kill inmates and prison workers alike. But as long as this problem has been around, the authorities have searched for ways to eliminate shanks, as the weapons are called, from prisons. Today, the Washington Post published an interesting article about a technique that could be economically feasible and easily implemented: molecular engineering.
Chemistry might not seem like the obvious starting point in addressing the shank problem, but as the article explains, a few scientists have had great success in modifying items like toothbrushes and razors to ensure that they can’t be used as weapons. The examples from the article involve toothbrushes made from a certain rubbery material that cannot be shaped, even after it is melted, and a razor blade that essentially disintegrates when it is removed from the handle.
I think these researchers are on to something, and that we can expect to hear more about this field of work in the very near future. The technology seems practical enough to implement soon, as long as a manufacturer can produce the items at a reasonable price. We’ll see what happens. Wouldn’t it be great to confound violent inmates with a toothbrush that refuses to draw blood?