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Behind the Walls

Whether it's in a federal penitentiary or a county jail, working with inmates takes special skills and special tools.

October 01, 2002  |  by Craig Meissner


All prison administrators make efforts to avoid disturbances, but also prepare for their occurrence. Riot control takes organization, teamwork, and the acquisition of information; but it's the equipment that gets the job done.

The officers who deploy riot equipment in corrections settings are usually called: TAC (Tactical Action Control), CERT (Corrections Emergency Response Team), or ESU (Emergency Services Unit). The size of a facility will dictate the size of the team, and the size of a team will dictate exact deployment. However, the concept is basically the same.

The first wave of riot control will consist of a line of officers dressed in vests and helmets and armed with shields. These shields have the standard curved design and are constructed of Lexan plastic 150 inches thick to protect against impact and fragmentation. Gas masks are also standard. The No. 69 Advantage 1000 gas mask from MSA is very popular, as are the masks made by IDF. U.S. Army M-17 gas masks are also widely used.

The second wave consists of a line of officers armed with batons and OC. The batons may be standard 16-inch nightsticks, ASP tactical batons (available in four sizes), or special riot batons, such as Monadnock's 36-inch two-handed baton (made of "Monpac").

In a typical prison riot, OC, not surprisingly, is used in large quantities. DefTec's Mark 46, for example, is a 46 ounce canister of 10 percent formula worn either on the back or carried via the MK-46 sling. A hose and wand allows the projection of OC under doors, through windows, and other access openings.

The Shock Shield from Immobilization Control Electronics (ICE) is very useful for cell extractions.

The final wave of riot control officers is the capture team. Lightly armed, these officers move in (under the protection of the first two waves) and apprehend the subjects. For this undertaking, officers usually use Flexcuffs such as the ones made by NIK Public Safety or Monadnock. Flexcuffs are easy to apply, cost effective, lighter to carry, and easy to store.

Lastly, a wave of officers is sent to outflank the unruly inmates with less-lethal munitions. These munitions include 12-gauge, 37mm, and 40mm rounds, as well as hand-held grenades.

Smaller departments favor 12-gauge munitions, chambering them through Mossberg 500s or Remington 870s. The shotguns designated for less-lethal munitions only are routinely painted red. Typical 12-gauge less-lethal munitions include rubber balls (either a single .69 caliber rubber ball or 18 .32 caliber rubber balls fired from a single shell), bean bag rounds, and aerial distraction devices (called "mini-flash bangs").

Rounds fired from a 37mm/40mm launcher are not only much larger, but much more effective. Popular launchers include the M79-LF, which has a folding stock and only weighs 5 pounds. Other popular launchers include those manufactured by Smith & Wesson, and the ARWEN (Anti-Riot Weapon Enfield) launcher.

The rubber ball munitions in 37mm/40mm offer either 175 or 225 .32 caliber balls or 27 or 42 .60 caliber balls, depending on casing size. In addition, there are bean bag rounds (capable of firing No. 9 lead shot filled bags 200 feet per second), sponge grenades (used as a kinetic weapon or with CS), liquid filled chemical rounds (filled with OC, CN, or CS), and distractionary rounds (flash bangs). CTS, MK Ballistics, and Federal Cartridge are among the many brands in production.

Another less-lethal platform that's very effective at quelling prison riots is the hand-held grenade. These include "Stinger" grenades, which disperse .32 caliber rubber pellets in a 50-foot diameter pattern, Stingers with OC, smoke grenades, gas grenades (CS, CN, or OC), and flash bang grenades (which produce a 2,420,000-candle flash and a 174.5-decibel bang at 5 feet) to disorient a subject.

Many corrections departments have special gear that can deliver tear gas and pepper spray in large doses.

Like any other tool, the above listing of less-than-lethal weapons, equipment, and protective gear all have their limitations. No item will be 100 percent effective at all times.

However, manufacturers have responded magnificently to the needs of today's corrections officers. With proper training and usage, these devices will continue to keep inmates safe and manageable and officers safe and sound for a long time to come.

For More Information on Corrections Products

American Body Armor

Armor Holdings

Defense Technology/Federal Laboratories

Electronic Defense Technology
(800) 345-7886

Federal Cartridge

Hiatt-Thompson Restraints

Jaycor Tactical Systems


Monadnock Lifetime Products


MK Ballistics




Paulson Manufacturing

Peerless Handcuff

Premier Crown


Second Chance

Smith & Wesson

Taser International


The author would like to extend special thanks to Sgt. Ray Revell (Pasco County, Fla. Sheriff's Dept.), Capt. James Salvio and CO Robert Kauer (NYCDOC).

Sgt. Craig Meissner is a 12-year veteran of the NYPD. A freelance writer on officer survival, he is the author of "Disguised Weapons: the Law Enforcement Guide to Covert Weapons" (

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