OCSEA Presses Case of Understaffed Prisons

by Clyde Weiss  |  February 10, 2016

OCSEA Presses Case of Understaffed Prisons Understaffing continues to put corrections officers in danger in the Mansfield, Ohio, prison facility. (Photo courtesy OCSEA)

Correctional officer Mollie Jansen and some of her colleagues at Ohio’s Mansfield Correctional Institution are helping to put a human face on the critical issue of understaffing that is threatening the health and safety of officers and inmates at the state facility.

Jansen, who has worked for almost  three years at the mixed-security prison for men, is a member of Ohio Civil Service Employees Association /AFSCME Local 11, which has been calling on state authorities to fill vacant positions at Mansfield and other correctional institutions in the state to relieve the understaffing. The issue has grown even more critical since last October, when an inmate in Mansfield took a female correction officer (not Jansen) hostage for nearly 11 hours.

This past weekend, the Mansfield News Journal and other Gannett newspapers focused on the issue, airing OCSEA’s concern that “programing and staffing issues” are root causes for the hostage-taking. OCSEA’s efforts to inform the public and elected officials about the issue have made it a subject of news media attention like never before.

The News Journal interviewed CO Jansen about her anxiety working at Mansfield, pointing out “she’s already undergone counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder” that began about six months ago “when an inmate grabbed her as she tried to escort him to his cell and he couldn’t be subdued with pepper spray. Now, she said, she’s had enough. “I won’t stay a correction officer,” the paper quoted her saying. “I can’t. It’s too dangerous.”

The News Journal story noted that of all the state correctional facilities, Mansfield has had the highest number of staff assaults between 2011 and 2013, with 55 injured. The facility, which opened in 1990, housed 2,589 inmates as of Jan. 4, 2016. It has a security staff of 436, according to the prison’s website.

“Statewide, there are 6,547 correction officers, about eight inmates for each correction officer compared to seven to one in November 2008 when the prison population was at its peak,” the paper said.

CO Shawn Gruber, an OCSEA board member, suggested three ways to reduce assaults against staff: lower the prison population, increase correctional staff and listen to staff on the frontlines.

OCSEA also says that state prison officials need to end the practice of allowing officers to work alone with inmates.

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