The Taser experiment began in December 2011 as a pilot program at the Carson City Correctional Facility, Ionia Correctional Facility, Alger Correctional Facility, the Michigan Reformatory and St. Louis Correctional Facility. It prompted the Human Rights Defense Center, the parent organization of Prison Legal News, to send a letter to MDOC director Daniel Heyns, warning of potential misuse of Tasers by guards. [See: PLN, July 2012, p.40].
Heyns and the Michigan Corrections Organization (MCO), the union that represents over 10,000 state prison employees, have lauded plans to expand the use of Tasers system-wide in the MDOC. In March 2012, Michigan officials ordered 242 Taser X2s, 242 Taser CAM HD recorders and 3,783 Taser cartridges, at an estimated cost of $800,000.
Heyns described the deployment of Tasers to prison guards as “a game changer” in testimony to state lawmakers. “We’re seeing a dramatic drop in the number of assaults,” he said. Prisoners “are going to think twice before they take on a staff member.”
“Before we had these Tasers to break up an altercation, or assault involved, our corrections officers getting involved in that, they had to get right in there, pull inmates apart and many times they would get injured, hurt, sometimes very seriously,” added MDOC spokesman Russ Marlan.
For example, on October 9, 2012, guards used Tasers to stop a fight involving six prisoners in a medium-security recreation yard at the Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility. Several prisoners suffered minor injuries; no staff members were hurt.
Since the pilot program began last year, guards have pulled their Tasers 59 times and fired them 39 times. While the MCO and MDOC tout this as a success that has resulted in a reduction in violence against staff, prisoner advocates have reservations about guards carrying Tasers.
“I believe there are better methods that can be utilized,” said Lois DeMott, co-founder of the advocacy group Citizens for Prison Reform. She expressed particular concern about Tasers being used on prisoners with disabilities or mental health problems.
Although the MCO pushed for and supported the use of Tasers, it rallied against the MDOC’s plan – which took effect in March 2012 – to save about $13 million by eliminating 24-hour vehicle patrols around prison perimeters. The MCO said that would result in more escapes and introduction of contraband.
“We know for a fact that folks throw tennis balls, for example, over a fence, filled with dope,” said Mel Grieshaber, MCO’s executive director. “We’ve had guns thrown over the fence.”
The MDOC, however, stated it has technology in place that provides ample monitoring of prison perimeters; the department has spent millions of dollars on cameras, lighting, electrified fences and motion detectors. Despite the MCO’s opposition, Heyns left no doubt about his intentions. “He told us he’s moving forward” with plans to discontinue the perimeter patrols, Grieshaber said, which led to picketing by MCO members outside MDOC facilities statewide.
Although the perimeter patrols are being eliminated, no guards will lose their jobs; rather, they will be transferred to other available positions.
Sources: Detroit Free Press, www.mlive.com, www.reuters.com
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