Wisconsin DOC Equips Guards with Pepper Spray, Tasers
A report compiled by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) found there were 351 assaults, attempted assaults and assault-related injuries involving prison staff from mid-2012 to mid-2013.
In response, Corrections Secretary Ed Wall announced in December 2013 that he was equipping guards with 3-ounce canisters of pepper spray to help prevent and stop violent incidents.
Wall noted that the threat of pepper spray alone can defuse dangerous situations and deter assaults. He said he is also considering furnishing civilian prison employees, such as nurses and teachers, with pepper spray.
Guards at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility and the Green Bay Correctional Institution were given pepper spray in a 2013 pilot program. The program, considered to be a success, is expanding statewide.
“The pepper spray is now being rolled out to officers at all minimum- and medium-security institutions,” said Wall and DOC Deputy Secretary Deidre Morgan.
State prisons previously had been equipped with Tasers, but they were kept locked up until needed. Now, supervisors in contact with prisoners are allowed to carry Tasers.
“It should have been done a long time ago. You stop stuff before anything happens,” stated Sgt. Daniel Meehan at the Waupun Correctional Institution.
Meehan, the local president of the Wisconsin Association for Correctional Law Enforcement, said he welcomed the DOC’s plan to equip guards with pepper spray. Not everyone was supportive of the idea, though.
“That’s a two-edged sword,” observed Marty Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union. “That pepper spray can be taken off an officer as quickly as it can be used by an officer.”
Beil credited the DOC with improving its tracking of prisoner-on-staff assaults; for years, such data had been poorly maintained. But the best way to protect employees from being assaulted, he said, would be for DOC administrators to work closely with prison staff.
That was the case before Governor Scott Walker eliminated collective bargaining for most public employees in 2011, Beil noted. He called the deployment of pepper spray and Tasers “window dressing.”
The DOC report found there were 252 assaults on staff, 40 attempted assaults and 59 assault-related injuries from July 2012 to June 2013. Those incidents included attempted assaults that consisted of prisoners unsuccessfully trying to spit on guards, as well as injuries that guards sustained from other staff members when trying to break up fights.
Further, to place the data in context, the 351 assaults, attempted assaults and injuries during the one-year period covered in the DOC report occurred in a prison system with around 21,800 offenders.
According to the report, prisoners with serious mental health problems accounted for 47% of the assaults; 59% of assaults and 70% of attempted assaults occurred at maximum-security prisons; and approximately 70% of assaults and attempted assaults happened in segregation units.
In addition to equipping guards with pepper spray and Tasers, the DOC has installed boxes on the doors of segregation cells, similar to devices used at bank drive-through windows. Food trays are placed in the box, then the door to the box is closed before it can be opened on the other side. Thus, prisoners are less likely to throw items at staff during meal times.
Source: Journal Sentinel
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