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Ohio's Prisons Grow More Violent, Especially Toward Guards, Report Says

Prisoners in Ohio are reportedly sending each other to the infirmary less often, but according to the state's Department of Rehabilitation & Correction (DRC), they are increasingly assaulting prison guards to the point of serious injury.

In a newly-released DRC study of all reported cases of violence in the state's prisons between Jan. 1, 2007 and Sept. 30, 2012, prison officials contend that "the rate of IOS (inmate-on-staff) assaults with serious physical injury to staff more than doubled during the period."

There were 19 reports statewide of serious injury resulting from physical assaults on guards in 2007, the DRC report says. In 2008, that number rose to 36, modestly dipped to 32 in 2009, and in 2010 and 2011 totaled 40 such assaults each year. The same total was projected for 2012, when the average daily prison population reached a five-year low of just less than 50,000.

Assaults on guards that resulted in minor injuries, however, dropped by more than a third from 2007, when there were a total of 205 such assaults, to a projected 136 in 2012. But, because those numbers appear to fluctuate in alternating years, the total number of such assaults resulting in some kind of injury peaked in 2011.

"It is good to see the total number of assaults (on guards) with injuries is expected to decline in 2012 to 176 from the peak of 234 such incidents experienced in 2011," the DRC reports. "However, it should be noted that we have seen a pattern of alternately declining then increasing numbers of these assaults every other year since 2008. It is hoped that with current reforms in progress that this pattern will be different in 2013."

There have reportedly been one rape and two attempted rapes of prison guards, it should be noted, in the past six years.

Meanwhile, the rate of serious injury "inmate-on-inmate," or IOI, assaults was projected to decline by 26% in 2012, after more than doubling between 2007 and 2011. And the total number of IOI sexual assaults and attempted sexual assaults has decreased by more than a third between 2007 and 2012.

But, according to DRC, those numbers don't equate to a less-violent prison culture. Fights between prisoners, which account for 72% of all rules infractions statewide, have increased by a reported 157 per 1,000 prisoners in 2007 to 230 per 1,000 prisoners in 2011.

Other types of "assaults" on guards, as defined by DRC, include so-called harassment assaults–which include "spitting, the throwing or squirting of bodily fluids, known or unknown liquids, food or other non-injury causing objects"–and inappropriate physical contact, such as prisoners purposely bumping into guards, elbowing or "pushing their way past staff, or grasping or slapping away the hand or arm of staff who are attempting to search, restrain or get (the prisoner's) ID badge."

While harassment assaults–which represent nearly half of all DRC­reported assaults–have hovered around 10 per 1,000 prisoners each year since 2007, inappropriate physical contact incidents have risen by about 35% and were expected to reach a near-peak of 123 statewide in 2012.

IOI assaults, meanwhile (not including fights), have overall "steadily risen," the DRC reports, totaling 1,023 statewide in 2007 and 1,485 in 2011.

"This reflects how extensive the inmate-on-inmate assault problem has become in the DRC system," the report says.

DRC also reported an extraordinary increase in "inmate disturbances," which the American Correctional Association defines as "any event caused by four or more inmates that disrupts the routine and orderly operation of the prison." Such disturbances have reportedly increased more than three-fold throughout Ohio's prison system since 2007, when 45 were recorded. In 2011, 152 disturbances were reported, and 136 were projected for 2012.

"With regard to how often these incidents occur," the report says, "there has never been a month during the past six years where there was not at least one inmate disturbance." And as recently as July 2012, there were 20 inmate disturbances, an all-time, single-month high that was also reached in December 2011.

Additionally, DRC reported assault trends by custody levels (1-5, minimum to maximum) at both male and female prisons, and found that, while "higher levels of control, and the caution that is reasonably exercised by staff" has purportedly helped to reduce serious physical assaults against guards on the highest custody levels, "no injury physical assaults are quite a bit higher" on level-4 and level-5 male prison yards.

The Ohio Civil Service Employee Association (OCSEA), the union that -represents prison guards, has been critical of Republican Gov. John Kasich and DRC Director Gary Mohr for underreporting past violence against prison guards. OCSEA leadership said the DRC report–which was required by 2011 state criminal sentencing legislation–was "disturbing."

Predictably, the union–which blames understaffing for the reported increase in violence against guards–wants DRC to hire more of them.

"Our members knew from first-hand experience that the reality on the ground was different from what (DRC) was reporting," Jimmy Adkins, head of OCSEA's prison guard delegation, told the Columbus Dispatch. "We think this report is a wake-up call to the Kasich administration that they need to take a serious look at some of the recommendations this union has made, including an increase in correction officers and other correction employees."

The DRC report, however, makes no such recommendation. Rather, DRC officials want better implementation of general population and security-threat group (STG) classification policies, "more effective control of the most violent and disruptive inmates," and incentives to make prisoners want to reach lower-custody yards.

Additionally, the report calls for better communication between guards and prisoners, less "clustering" of younger prisoners, and "additional legal mechanisms to increase time in prison for inmates who commit serious assaultive behavior," among other recommendations.

Sources: "A Report on Assaults, Disturbances, Violence, and Prosecution in the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Correction: Jan. 1, 2007 through Sept. 30, 2012," ODRC;

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