New Report Cites Improvements at Troubled Ohio Prison
Prisoner-on-staff assaults at the Toledo Correctional Institution (TOCI) in Ohio continued to rise in fiscal year 2014, but a recent report from a state inspection team indicates the facility has made improvements in other areas, and prisoner-on-prisoner assaults have declined significantly.
The report, released on November 24, 2014, also revealed marked improvement in overcrowded conditions at the prison.
The Ohio Correctional Institution Inspection Committee found during its review of the facility that the total number of assaults during FY 2014 dropped 5.7% compared to the same period the previous year.
“The institution is overall safer, with a perceptibly more secure environment,” the report stated. “Healthcare services, which have traditionally been problematic at TOCI, have drastically improved. Fair treatment accountability – including the grievance procedure and the inmate disciplinary system – has improved and conditions in segregation were very good. Access to purposeful activities has increased and reentry planning is significantly better than in the prior year,” the study found.
The report cited a dramatic drop in the population at TOCI – 18.3% in FY 2014 compared to a year earlier. The population count, taken on September 29, 2014, indicated 1,035 prisoners were housed at the facility; nearly 1,000 were classified as either close- or maximum-security.
The Correctional Institution Inspection Committee conducted inspections at TOCI on September 29, October 1 and October 2, 2014.
The resulting report was in sharp contrast to a scathing study issued by the same agency in 2013, which cited increases in assaults and three prisoner homicides during the previous year, plus a 113% increase in prisoner-on-prisoner assaults and a nearly 74% jump in prisoner-on-staff violence.
The 2014 report further noted that the facility had hired additional staff, a point of contention for many years with the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA), the union that represents prison employees.
In early October 2012, discontent with understaffing reached a boiling point when prison workers rallied outside TOCI to draw attention to violence that union leaders said was the result of overcrowding, understaffing and Ohio’s 2011 prison reform program that separated first-time offenders and those preparing to be released from more violent prisoners, who were then concentrated in four state facilities, including TOCI.
The 2014 report by the Inspection Committee also pointed to other improvements at the prison, noting that staff at TOCI had worked to treat prisoners more fairly and had improved the grievance procedure and disciplinary system.
The study’s authors added, however, that improvements are still needed. For example, the report recommended that TOCI officials develop more strategies to reduce violence and evaluate the disproportionate use of force against black prisoners.
Also, TOCI has not eliminated prisoner homicides. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) reported that in March 2013, TOCI prisoner Arturo Lopez was strangled in his cell at the facility. Then in August 2013, James Oglesby was beaten to death by another prisoner with a baseball bat, and two months later Michael Dodson was fatally assaulted by his cellmate.
Systemwide, Ohio’s prisons remain overcrowded and often violent institutions. State officials reported on December 3, 2013 that a prisoner was killed in his cell at the Grafton Correctional Institution. ODRC spokesperson Ricky Seyfang said Gerald Pierce, 65, died during a struggle with his cellmate.
TOCI warden Ed Sheldon, who assumed his position at the facility in November 2011, pointed to the state’s prison reform program as the underlying systemic issue.
“The higher-security prisoners are going to take one for the team,” Sheldon explained at the time. “We’re going to get the problem children away from the inmates who want to be rehabilitated. The trade-off is the higher-security prisons are going to be getting more violent inmates,” he added. “These guys, they react. They don’t think. They’re assaultive, they’re disruptive, they’re predatory.”
“When you put the most violent inmates in the same institutions, it’s a recipe for disaster,” agreed Jimmy Adkins, president of OCSEA’s Corrections Assembly.
Sources: Toledo Blade, www.wtoc.com, www.daytondailynews.com, www.cleveland.com, http://www.drc.ohio.gov/Public/toci.htm
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