Inside the Maximum Security Wing of Santa Clara County Jail: Creative Inmates Turn Everyday Items Into Deadly Weapons

Jail supervisors say correctional deputies dealing with maximum security inmates are on a constant lookout.

Crossbows, knives, even a mace. That's just some of what deputies say they've found in the last few years inside the maximum security area of the Santa Clara County Jail.

The jail has been under heavy scrutiny lately after the alleged beating death of an inmate by three deputies. In talking with jail officials about the potentially dangerous situations at the jail, NBC Bay Area requested a look at items confiscated from inmates. For the first time, we can show publicly some of the creative, possibly lethal, handmade weapons and why maximum security requires maximum scrutiny.

At NBC Bay Area's request, the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department assembled an array of handmade weapons found or confiscated at the maximum security wing of the jail. Some weapons were remarkably creative and effective, such as a crossbow' put together with rolled up, dried out magazines and newspapers, cloth from T-shirts, and a metal rod sharpened into an arrow.

"They even put an eyesight on the end of it so they could maintain some sort of accuracy with this thing," said Custody Operations Assistant Sheriff Troy Beliveau.

Another unexpected weapon: a makeshift mace.

"What they were able to do is get a piece of chain off a fence that was probably securing a gate," Beliveau said. "And this is Constantine wire off the barbed wire that would have gone around the fencing."

NBC Bay Area

Jail supervisors say officers dealing with maximum security inmates are on constant lookout for simple, lethal, handmade knives, also known as shanks.

"These are particularly concerning to us because we've got about 198 murder or suspected murder suspects in custody," Beliveau said. "And they've got nothing to lose."

Jail officials point out, gang warfare doesn't end behind bars. Some of the weapons even display gang tags.

The Santa Clara County Sheriff announced Wednesday some major changes to its jail operation focusing on use-of-force complaints. Robert Handa reports.

"We have over 700 suspected or validated gang members in custody," Beliveau said. "We've got two rival gangs in this facility that don't like one another at all, and will attack on sight, and they'll go through deputies to get to one another."

The sheriff's department says it hopes the ongoing evaluations will help address some of those ongoing jail situations.

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