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Corrections Officers Push for Assault Compensation
By Manuel Valdes
The Associated Press
A few days after a corrections officer was killed, prison guards lobbied for a change in the law that would allow them to collect money from inmates who assault them.

OLYMPIA — Corrections officer Jim Fletcher says he suffered three broken ribs, concussions and torn neck muscles while working for a decade at Monroe Correctional Complex.
"After I step back and assess my whole situation, it's not that I was going out of my way," Fletcher said Tuesday. "It was just doing my daily duties."

A few days after a corrections officer was killed, prison guards — including Fletcher, who knew the slain officer — lobbied for a change in the law that would allow them to collect money from inmates who assault them.

Supporters, however, said it's not about the money. Instead, the bill aims to punish prisoners by lowering their income and limiting what they can buy behind bars as a form of punishment.
Attorney Brandon Johnson, a member of a corrections-officers lobbying group, said curtailing access to items such as candy bars, instant soup or even televisions can work as a deterrent.
"This bill is about accountability and deterrence," Johnson said in testimony before the state Senate Committee on Human Services and Corrections. "DOC employees have the same right as any other employee to expect a safe work environment. Being the victim of violent assaultive behavior is not part of the job description."

The lobbying group said efforts to impose a similar law are under way in Florida and New Jersey.

In Washington state, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt is the bill's chief sponsor in the chamber. It's the second year in a row that Hewitt introduced such a bill. The measure didn't make it last year because other lawmakers wanted more time to study the subject, Hewitt said.

A companion bill in the House also is moving forward.

Corrections officers in Washington testified that assaults are common, and they recalled incidents that included riots and being hit in the face by blood and feces.

Officers currently can sue inmates who attack them. The Washington Staff Assault Task Force TM estimated 24 such lawsuits are pending in the state.

The proposal discussed Tuesday met no opposition at the hearing. Lawmakers said they would move it out of committee as quickly as possible, likely unchanged.

The measure would set inmate income deductions of 20 percent for gross wages, 15 percent from any gross gratuities and 20 percent from all other deposits of inmates.

Inmates who work make little money, sometimes as little as 65 cents an hour.

"Amounts that may be insignificant to us in the outside, but are significant to inmates," Johnson said.

The hearing came days after 34-year-old corrections officer Jayme Biendl was killed at the Monroe prison. Authorities suspect a convicted rapist strangled her with a microphone cord while the two were alone in a chapel.

Connell prison worker fights back after assault
By Cathy Kessinger, Herald staff writer

OLYMPIA -- John Poynor isn't a typical crime victim.

He's a corrections officer at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell. And he's been off active duty since Oct. 31, when an inmate hit him so hard it dislocated his shoulder. He's recovering at home from shoulder surgery done last week.

The 41-year-old officer is joining an increasing group of corrections employees who want to fight back to deter such assaults.

He and other prison and county jail employees are suing inmates who assault them and are seeking financial damages they hope to collect from inmate accounts.

State Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, is sponsoring a bill that would open the way for garnishment of inmate accounts when such damages are awarded.

Hewitt was approached by the Washington Staff Assault Task Force TM, a group of employees at correctional facilities and county jails, who hope to deter assaults by taking away the money inmates are sent or earn while in prison.

The group is trying the new approach after years of what organizers say is a justice system that cares more about getting criminals behind bars than prosecuting crimes committed after they are in prison.

If a police officer gets assaulted after a traffic stop, the perpetrator likely will be charged with assault. But if an inmate attacks a corrections employee, the attacker may only get some "good time" taken away by a prison hearings officer -- meaning a little more time behind bars.
"I guess they just figure they've already got them in prison," Poynor said.

About three years ago, a group of corrections employees in California got the idea of filing lawsuits to collect damages from inmates' accounts. Inmates earn money from their prison jobs, and family members and others send money to their prison accounts. It can be spent for TVs, food, shoes, almost any "extras" allowed.

"You start taking away his creature comforts, and then he might think twice about doing it again," said Darren Kelly, chairman of the Washington Staff Assault Task Force TM and a corrections officer at Airway Heights Correction Center near Spokane.

The group has filed 24 civil lawsuits in six counties, including Poynor's Franklin County case. But current state law stops collection of a damage award until an inmate is notified, which allows a chance to move all money out of an account. Hewitt's bill would change that.

Hewitt said he met with about 200 corrections officers last year, and he said they told him they felt being able to take away a chunk of the only money inmates have access to behind bars could be a deterrent to violence.

"The correction officers tell me it is what's important for these inmates," Hewitt said.
State budget cuts are expected to make the problem worse as the ratio of officers to inmates declines.

"It's only going to get worse," said Poynor, who lives in Richland. "When we are so out-numbered, we can't effectively control them."

Things like child support and money owed to other crime victims already come out of the accounts, Kelly said.

The bill has been referred to the Human Services & Corrections Committee.

* Cathy Kessinger: 509-582-1535; ckessinger@tricity

Citizens urge committee to pass Nealey bill to deter correctional officer assaults
Published Wednesday, February 10 2010

Stan and Geneva DeLong remain in deep mourning over the loss of their daughter, Lakewood police officer Tina DeLong Griswold, but they have vowed to do what they can to ensure the protection of other law enforcement and corrections officers.

Griswold was one of four Lakewood police officers shot to death in November in a Pierce County coffee shop. Her parents travelled from Post Falls, Idaho, to Olympia to testify today in favor of a bill sponsored by Rep. Terry Nealey.

Nealey’s measure, House Bill 3008, would create an additional deterrent against assaults of correctional officers by allowing money from a civil judgment to be deducted from the wages, gratuities or workers' compensation benefits of an inmate who engaged in the attack.

Speaking before the Human Services Committee, Geneva DeLong, who’s son, Tom, is a 27-year correctional officer, said she discovered from a Web site that 120 law enforcement officers nationwide were killed last year, including 10 who served as correctional officers.

“As I went through that site, I realized I’m not here just speaking for Tina and Tom. I’m speaking for the 10 correctional officers that died in 2009 and all the other law enforcement officers. About a quarter of the way through, I started crying. I’m in the library…and I thought, ‘Lord, please help me. I need to present these 120 to this committee,’” said Geneva DeLong. “So, if you can imagine 120 people in this room, and then imagine the families and the friends that go along with them, I ask you to do this right now. I am not speaking for myself. I am speaking for them. Our officers are the only thing that stands between us and evil. When that shield is broken or chipped, we suffer.”

Stan DeLong told committee members of his extensive experience in law enforcement and corrections, and the dangers corrections officers face inside prison walls.

“I know what they go through. A lot of them get hurt. There is no compensation for them,” he said. “I know what I thought when I left the house. Will I return? We’ve got to find a way to have some protection for these correctional officers and police officers. Do we care? I hope so.”
Nealey, R-Dayton, said he sponsored the bill at the request of correctional officers at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

“The penitentiary has gained quite a reputation for taking on the hard cases and being able to handle them. There are approximately 6,000 corrections officers that are working in this type of situation. It’s a dangerous job inside the walls, and legislation like this has been effective in other states toward curbing inmate violence against corrections officers,” said Nealey. “Some inmates at Walla Walla are the worst offenders in the state and many are in for life. It’s difficult to come up with a deterrent. Many make very little money inside the prison, so when a percentage of that is taken away, it removes privileges that mean a lot to a lifetime inmate. So that is what has made it effective.”

Department of Corrections employee Darren Kelly told the committee that inmates often use their wages for items such as soda pop, tennis shoes, television sets, and other comforts.
“When that portion of money they utilize for those things is deducted, you see what a behavioral impact it makes on them.” said Kelly. “It’s an outstanding deterrent, especially if you’ve got somebody with life without parole. He punches you in the face and he gets four more years, he doesn’t care. That’s not going to deter the assaultive behavior.”

Nealey says the law already sets up a deduction formula of how inmates’ money can be used, according to his or her obligations. Money is withheld to satisfy child support payments, pay for incarceration, provide a percentage to the state general fund, and satisfy any legal financial obligations ordered by the court system. Nealey’s bill would also set aside up to 20 percent of earnings from inmates who have assaulted an officer.

Brandon Johnson, a Walla Walla attorney who serves on the Washington Staff Assault Task Force TM, said a process already exists for correctional officers and employees to bring civil lawsuits against inmates who have engaged in violent assaults. He said Nealey’s bill would allow for a more streamlined process of deductions.

“The garnishment process we have in Washington is incredibly burdensome, time consuming and expensive. This bill would allow deductions to be made prior to funds reaching the offending inmate’s account,” said Johnson.

“It’s important to point out this bill would only impact inmates who choose to violently assault corrections officers and DOC employees. An inmate who follows the rules and chooses not to engage in that behavior would have no financial consequences whatsoever. The purpose of this legislation is accountability and deterrence,” added Johnson. “Corrections officers are engaged in a dangerous job. But it is not part of their job description to be assaulted. They didn’t sign up for that. We should do everything possible to deter that type of behavior.”

Although no action was taken on the bill today, Nealey is hopeful the committee will soon pass the measure.

Washington Staff Assault Task Force TM Sues Inmate for Alleged Attack
By Paula Horton, Herald staff writer

WALLA WALLA - An inmate at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla is being sued for a "vicious assault" on a corrections officer at the prison in December.

A civil lawsuit was filed in Walla Walla County Superior Court against Christopher R. McBain by the Washington Staff Assault Task Force TM.

The suit was filed on behalf of Mark Abbott, 42, a 14-year veteran at the state prison.

The suit against an inmate is believed to be the first of its kind in the state.

The goal of the nonprofit task force is to hold inmates accountable for their actions while providing support to officers who get assaulted.

"Just because inmates are in prison doesn't mean that their criminal activity stops," said the task force's director, Keith Rapp, who spent 17 years at the penitentiary and was a corrections officers and a crisis hostage negotiator.

"A lot of assaults aren't even prosecuted downtown. An inmate is given an infraction hearing - administratively in the prison system he is punished - but this is to let inmates know we're going to hold them accountable by hitting them in the pocketbook."

Abbott was seriously hurt Dec. 3 when he was repeatedly punched by McBain, said Abbott's attorney, Irving M. Rosenberg.

"My understanding is he was standing there in the dining room, he looked away for one second and then a punch came out of nowhere," he said.

"It was definitely unprovoked. … We're not sure yet if it was a random attack or if he was singled out. From time to time, guards get singled out for doing their jobs."

Abbott injured his eye, broke his nose and had crushed sinus passages and damaged teeth.

McBain, also known as Christafer R. McBain, is in prison for second-degree murder for stabbing his estranged father about 50 times during a scuffle in 2004, according to The Associated Press. McBain was sentenced in Clark County Superior Court to 20 years in prison.

The 22-year-old is scheduled for release from prison in February 2024, said Maria Peterson, a Department of Corrections spokeswoman.

Prison officials investigated the assault, but McBain refused to talk about what happened, Peterson said. McBain's custody level was changed to maximum security following the investigation.

"Up until now, there was no civil redress from the inmates' tortuous conduct," Rosenberg said. "There was no incentive to not misbehave for a long-term sentenced inmate or a 'lifer.' While some inmates will, of course, be judgment-proof, many more will not. There can be assets and potential future assets to claim from."

Rapp started the Washington Staff Assault Task Force TM in July after learning about a similar group in California and spending time with an officer held hostage at Arizona's Lewis Correctional Facility in 2004. He wrote the book Hostage: 15 Days in Hell about Lois Fraley's experience.

Rapp, who left the penitentiary two years ago, already has recruited about 400 members from the prison in the past year. He plans to enlist members from all the state prisons so all correctional staff can receive benefits.

"What we're doing is really good stuff," the task force director said. "What we do is we take a negative experience, a staff assault, and turn it into a positive experience by assisting the officer financially and emotionally."

Corrections officers who pay $10 a month to join the task force get a "cash benefit" from the group if they get assaulted by an inmate, he said. The task force then will handle the civil lawsuit against the inmate.

"It's not about the money; it's about the accountability," Rapp said. "Staff aren't really going in expecting to make money. That's why we're in there to give them a little something with the benefit check."

Most of the claims against inmates likely will be filed in small claims court, Rapp said.

Abbott's case was filed in Superior Court because of the severity of his injuries.

He said a second suit against another inmate is also expected to be filed soon in Walla Walla County Superior Court.

Prison Staff Wants Safety Now
Proposed changes take time, officials say
Chelsea Bannach, The Spokesman-Review

The inmate population at the Spokane County jail changes constantly. Layoffs of prosecutors, offenders from other agencies and things as simple as the weather will determine how many of the cells are filled at any given time.

State prison guards who were promised safer working conditions following the Jan. 29 slaying of a corrections officer in Western Washington are still waiting.

At Airway Heights Corrections Center near Spokane, for example, self-defense pepper spray that experts recommend all officers carry while on duty remains locked up in an armory that only certain employees can open. Other changes recommended by a panel whose report has been embraced by Gov. Chris Gregoire are still potentially months away from being implemented.

“We’re waiting to see if anything is going to come of this,” said Darren Kelly, president of the Washington Staff Assault Task Force TM and a corrections officer at Airway Heights. But he is skeptical the recommended changes will be made promptly enough. He added that the lack of staff and proper safety gear create ongoing workplace hazards.

The strangling of Officer Jayme Biendl by a convicted sex offender in the chapel of the Monroe Correctional Complex has prompted a re-evaluation of staff safety inside state prisons and county jails across Washington.

State officials say they’re moving as quickly as possible, but changes take time and money.

“It will take some policy decisions,” said Airway Heights spokeswoman Risa Klemme. “You have to have your policies in place as to how these items are used. We’re not there yet.”

Law enforcement employees hope recommendations in the 27-page report by the National Institute of Corrections are implemented at correctional facilities sooner rather than later, but they fear budget concerns and bureaucracy will come before safety.

The report recommends changes in five areas: offender capacity, staffing levels, training, technology, and policy and procedure. It specifically mentions that correctional officers should begin wearing a body alarm and carrying pepper spray.

City and county jails are evaluating safety measures as well and trying to identify weaknesses.

The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office has identified overcrowding and low staffing levels as key concerns at its two facilities: the county jail adjacent to the Public Safety Building, and the minimum-security Geiger Corrections Center.

“Having more inmates than an area is designed for creates tension,” said Capt. John McGrath, adding that the jail was designed for about 462 inmates but regularly houses 600-plus each day. “Tension can lead to assault.”

Because of overcrowding, inmates at Spokane County Jail spend just one hour a day outside their cells and are locked up for the entire weekend, which can also cause tension, officials said.

In the last two years, there have been four assaults on deputies by inmates at the Spokane County Jail.

Spokane County officials say one solution would have been to build a new jail, but a bond measure expected to go to voters this year has been put on hold.

At Airway Heights there have been 15 assaults on staff by inmates since 2008. Just two, however, were considered severe enough to support criminal charges.

“I’m not minimizing that by any means,” Klemme said. “Any (assault) would be unacceptable to us.”

The implementation of a formal system to account for all staff and prisoners was required statewide, including at Airway Heights, after Biendl’s slaying. Additional changes are likely to come as the Department of Corrections completes its review of the results of the National Institute of Corrections report, she said.

Management at Airway Heights is also currently assessing general security, but Klemme said staff safety has always been a priority.

“We’ve always approached safety issues proactively,” she said. “It’s kind of a work in progress.”

She said they routinely provide training in emergency response and encourage supervisors to have discussions with their staff about “what-ifs.”

While the changes so far are good, it’s not enough, Kelly said.

Pepper spray is a prime example, he said, noting that it’s already on site at Airway Heights but locked in an armory 150 yards away from where any incident could occur.

“One of the things we were supposed to get was our OC pepper spray,” he said. “That I don’t think we should be waiting on.”

“Had Jayme Biendl had that extra tool on her belt, maybe the outcome would have been the same, I don’t know, but maybe not,” he said. “Maybe she would have been able to utilize that, but we’ll never know.”

Klemme said that while prison officials are reviewing how and when to use pepper spray, making changes to that system is more complicated than just handing the spray out to employees.

“It will take some policy decisions,” she said. Kelly said understaffing is another safety issue that has existed since he began working at Airway Heights 18 years ago.

“We’ve asked for more staffing but we’re told there’s no money,” he said. “But yet, then we see people getting promoted, new positions being created and our executive management growing and growing and growing.”

“We’re top heavy. Those managers aren’t the ones who walk the tiers with us and deal with inmates on a daily basis, yet they’re making six figures,” he said.

While changes are likely to be made in the corrections system in response to Biendl’s death, how and when they will be implemented is still unknown.

“I think there are things we have done all along that have been proactive, but certainly now with the Jayme Biendl incident, it certainly rises that up again, to be even more proactive,” she said.

Kelly remains skeptical. He says correctional employees’ concerns have fallen on deaf ears for years now, and he wouldn’t be surprised if – even in the wake of Biendl’s violent death – they would continue to be ignored.

“It makes me sick to my stomach, but after 18 years, I’m sad to say it’s become typical,” he said. “The department has never been proactive. It’s been reactive. If it’s not a manager’s suggestion, they don’t listen.”

You know you’ve made it when they are complaining about you in the Prison Legal News:

Washington Prison Guards Sue Prisoners
by Brandon Sample 04 16/12

Prisoners who attack Washington state prison guards can add one more potential consequence to their actions – garnishment of their commissary accounts.

The effort to garnish prisoners’ accounts is being spearheaded by the Washington Staff Assault Task Force TM (WSATF), a group of guards who hope to deter assaults by suing their attackers.

WSATF thinks that prisoners will be less inclined to attack guards if they know they will lose the money sent to them by family members or friends, or earned in prison wages.
Prisoners can use the funds in their accounts to buy food, TVs, shoes and other amenities.

“You start taking away [a prisoner’s] creature comforts, and then he might think twice about doing it again,” said Darren Kelly, WSATF’s chairman and a guard at the Airway Heights Corrections Center near Spokane.

Assaultive prisoners lose “good time” and are placed in control units and are frequently brutally attacked by guards as well, but are rarely prosecuted. The loss of good time alone, guards say, is an inadequate deterrent.

Thus, WSATF files lawsuits against prisoners who attack prison guards. Most recently the group sued a prisoner who assaulted John Poynor, a guard at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell, Washington. Poynor’s shoulder was allegedly dislocated in the attack.

Republican state Senator Mike Hewitt has introduced a bill, SB 5030, that would make it easier for guards to garnish damage awards from prisoners’ accounts. Under current law prisoners must be notified before such funds can be garnished, which gives them enough time to empty their accounts. Hewitt’s bill, which remains pending, would change that.

According to WSATF’s website, the group has over 1,700 members and has won 18 civil judgments against prisoners totaling $89,000. For example, in February 2010, Monroe Correctional Complex Sgt. Jimmie Fletcher obtained a judgment of $5,089 against a mentally ill prisoner who had attacked him. It is not known if Fletcher is getting workers compensation as well. Also not revealed by WSATF is how much money they have actually collected on behalf of their members.

A better approach to suing such prisoners, though, may be to provide adequate mental health care and address conditions of confinement or other underlying factors that contribute to assaults on prison guards.

Sources: ,

3/18/08  Tri-City Herald - Washington Staff Assault Task Force TM sues inmate for alleged attack.

WALLA WALLA - An inmate at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla is being sued for a "vicious assault" on a corrections officer at the prison in December. (Read article)


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