Fewer assaults on prison staff since TASERs introduced
Assaults on prison employees have dropped significantly since corrections officers began carrying Tasers in 2011
By Paul Egan
Detroit Free Press
LANSING — Assaults on prison employees have dropped significantly since corrections officers began carrying Tasers in 2011, according to data from the Michigan Department of Corrections.
Assaults on Corrections Department employees dropped 33% from 688 in 2010 to 458 in 2013, according to “critical incident reports” posted on the department’s website.
Meanwhile, the prison population dropped only slightly during that time, from about 44,000 at the end of 2010 to 43,704 at the end of 2013.
State officials say the Tasers are helping keep order in the prisons and have reduced the cost of workers compensation claims by corrections officers.
“I think that we are seeing savings,” Corrections Department spokesman Russ Marlan said Friday.
Mel Grieshaber, executive director of the Michigan Corrections Organization, the union representing corrections officers, said Tasers are not likely the only factor contributing to the drop in assaults on prison staff, but “the Tasers have helped.”
Many times corrections officers are injured as a result of a “sucker punch” from an inmate, and the fact an officer is carrying a Taser is no help in a case like that, Grieshaber said. But the weapons, which deliver a temporarily immobilizing electric shock, are particularly useful in preventing officer injury when breaking up fights between inmates, he said.
Another personal protection device that officers have started carrying in the last two years, a chemical spray that is stronger than standard pepper stray, also has helped in maintaining order, Grieshaber said.
But not everyone agrees the introduction of Tasers to Michigan prisons was a good idea.
“We’re totally against having Tasers in there,” said Peter Martel, a program associate with the American Friends Service Committee’s criminal justice program.
Based on what he hears from inmates and former inmates, many corrections officers are too quick to use the Tasers and don’t always use them safely, said Martel, who cited an instance of a prisoner who lost vision after being struck near the eye with a Taser jolt.
The use of Tasers by certain corrections officers — mostly those who supervise inmates in large groups, such as in dining halls and exercise yards — began in five Michigan prisons in December 2011, and later spread to the entire system. The department spent more than $1 million on the devices by the end of 2013.
Marlan said there have been offsetting savings, such as a 61% drop in workers compensation cases for corrections officers between 2011-12, which he said saved the department $1.8 million.
Records show tasers coincide with drop in assaults of prison guards by inmates
Taser deployments Inmate assaults on prison staff