Last June, two hours into her shift at the Toledo Correctional Institution, Officer Michelle Deiley peered through the small window on the door of James Jarrett’s cell to see the inmate naked.
Officer Deiley ordered Jarrett to get dressed, and after waiting several minutes, she opened the door and entered the cell. Jarrett charged and went after the officer with his fists, punching her face and head, knocking her to the floor, where he continued the assault, an Ohio Highway Patrol report said.
Her screams alerted other officers in the cellblock, who ran to help the downed officer, troopers said.
Officer Deiley, who has been a guard at the state prison since it opened 13 years ago, was taken to Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center, where she was treated for cuts above and below her eyes.
The incident — one of five serious assaults on guards last year at the prison on East Central Avenue in North Toledo — occurred after the institution underwent mandated changes to offset a rising inmate population.
Inmate assaults on correction officers and staff more than doubled in 2012 from the year before, and the prison also saw a nearly 70 percent jump in the number of assaults among inmates, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
In September, an inmate was strangled by another inmate, the first homicide since the prison opened in 2000.
A second killing followed in March when an inmate was strangled with a rope in his cell.
Both union and state prison officials point to the changes that were introduced two years ago in the maximum-security prison as reasons for the surge in violence.
Beginning in 2011, the prison began adding hundreds of new inmates, including higher-level offenders, who likely are violent and predatory, from lower-security institutions, and to ease the ensuing overcrowding, began putting two inmates in single cells.
The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, commonly called DRC, breaks prisoners into five classifications, ranging from Level 1 inmates, who are classified as being less disruptive and suitable for rehabilitation, to Level 5 inmates, who are considered the most dangerous.
Warden Ed Sheldon said in an interview with The Blade that the upswing in violence can be traced to putting two Level 3 inmates in the same cells, a change that was fully implemented in late 2011.
With the closing of several prisons and consolidation of facilities, state officials decided that scarce and expensive maximum-security prisons, such as Toledo Correctional, that have the capability to double-bunk inmates must do so.
Mr. Sheldon, who arrived at the Toledo prison in November, 2011, said restructuring to accommodate double-bunking was a big adjustment for the prison population, causing tensions among inmates.
He said it also affected the correctional officers, who had to adjust to guarding twice as many inmates in housing units, and they also had to deal with the new wave of disruptive offenders absorbed from other facilities.
“A decision was made to double-bunk Toledo,” he said. “For 10 or 11 years, this prison was single-celled with Level 3 inmates who were used to being in a single cell. You had inmates who liked being here. A lot of them were from the Toledo area and didn’t want to leave.”
Placing two prisoners in a cell began gradually at the Toledo prison after February, 2011. About the same time, prisoners at the prison’s minimum-security camp, which is designed as a dormitory, were transferred to minimum-security facilities.
After the camp was phased out in 2011, the inmate population was approximately 950, and with the implementation of double-bunking the prison ranks swelled to just more than 1,600 inmates before year’s end.
“The day I got here the population was 1,605 inmates,” Mr. Sheldon said. “There was roughly a 60 percent increase in the inmate population inside this building.”
While the inmate population surged, facilities for eating, recreation, showering, and visitation stayed the same, the warden said.
The 244 inmates who carry the Level 4 classification are housed in single cells in one of the prison’s three cellblocks. The prison does not house any Level 5 offenders.
“These are the guys who have demonstrated an inability to adjust at the lower-security prisons,” the warden said of the Level 4 offenders. “It is just a different type of inmate. In addition, you’ve got more of them.”
Mr. Sheldon took over duties in Toledo after being warden at the North Central Correctional Complex, where he helped in the transition to privatize the prison. A native of the Cleveland area, he has held positions at four other prisons during his 24-year career with the DRC.
Ten months after the new warden arrived, the prison’s first homicide since it opened in 2000 occurred. Bradley Hamlin, 24, of Mantua, Ohio, was found Sept. 20 unresponsive on the floor of the cell he shared with another inmate. He died two days later in a local hospital.
Michael Hensley, 43, a convicted serial killer, was indicted in January in Hamlin’s death. Hensley has been transferred to the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville to serve out life sentences for the killing of three teenage girls and a man from his church in Shelby County in 1999. Hensley has pleaded not guilty to killing Hamlin.
On March 17, Arturo Lopez, 43, was pronounced dead at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center after he was found unresponsive in the cell he shared with another inmate. Authorities said Lopez, formerly of Port Clinton, was strangled. At the time of his slaying, he had about 15 months left on his sentence for rape. No arrests have been made.
The Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, a legislatively established committee that monitors activities of prison facilities, warned of the potential increase in violence two years ago after an inspection of the Toledo prison.
“It is my firm belief that overcrowding will result in prison violence, and I think that this is a key example,” Joanna Saul, the group’s executive director, wrote in an email days after the most recent killing.
The visit by Ms. Saul, state Sen. Edna Brown (D., Toledo), who is a member of the committee, former Lucas County Recorder Jeanine Perry, and Paula Hicks-Hudson, Toledo’s District 4 councilman, was a follow-up to an earlier inspection to address inmate concerns about double bunking.
Among the problems that the committee believed needed attention were the lack of laundry facilities, telephone and visiting areas, and cafeteria services for the increased inmate population.
Angela Brandel, a guard at the prison for 10 years and president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association Local 4818, said adjusting to the changes has been difficult for the officers in part because of the disruptive prisoners moved from the lower security lockups.
“They are younger, and they think they are untouchable and don’t care about the consequences,” she said.
Since the transition two years ago, 66 officers have resigned or have been terminated.
The vacancies require that officers work overtime to assure adequate staffing, Mrs. Brandel said.
The prison is authorized to have 245 officers, but the DRC has promised to increase the guard staff.
“We are short. We operate a 24-hour, around-the-clock facility,” she said.
“Things are only going to get worse. With summer coming, there will be more mandated overtime.”
Last year, overtime at Toledo Correctional jumped to $2,728,820, which was a 27 percent increase from the year before.
Employees working overtime receive one-and-a-half times their regular pay rate or accrue compensation time off.
Types of inmates
The Toledo Correctional Institution was built as a maximum-security prison. But instead of housing the state’s most dangerous offenders, it opened as what state prison officials said was a prison for close-custody inmates — a designation between maximum security and medium security.
The prison opened in early July, 2000, with minimum-security inmates being held in a 186-bed camp at the complex.
Higher-security offenders from other state prisons arrived later in the year, with each inmate having his own cell in the main prison.
An unused 288-bed cellblock that was part of the original facility opened in 2006 to ease prison crowding statewide.
Despite the promise of hundreds of recession-proof jobs, the prison wasn’t an easy sell.
After the state declared intentions in 1994 to construct a 1,000-bed prison in northwest Ohio, only a handful of communities responded with possible sites.
Defiance, Fostoria, and Bowling Green were among the cities that had no interest in the proposed prison.
However, the city of Toledo responded with offerings of potential sites, including the Goose Hill neighborhood, a neglected area at the end of East Central Avenue, east of I-280.
Carty Finkbeiner, who was in his first term as Toledo mayor, lobbied the state to locate the prison there.
While the city pursued the prison, opposition to the facility grew.
A small group, Citizens Against a Prison in North Toledo, made its opposition known to state, city, and county officials.
The group found support from the late John Garcia, then a state representative, and the only politician who opposed the North Toledo location.
On Nov. 18, 1996, Gov. George Voinovich announced the prison would be built on the Goose Hill site.
Mr. Finkbeiner declared that the city was given the opportunity to clean up a very run-down section of North Toledo.
“This will spawn economic development, from mom-and-pop restaurants to gas stations,” he said of the prison.
Spike in assaults
The move to double-bunking at Toledo Correctional was followed by spikes of assaults on guards by inmates as well as inmate-on-inmate attacks.
Serious assaults requiring outside medical treatment, including the attack on Officer Deiley, rose from two in 2011 to five in 2012. Overall, the prison investigated 61 assaults in 2012, more than double the 28 incidents during the prior year.
Serious inmate-on-inmate assaults jumped from 10 in 2011 to 18 last year, and overall there were 66 assaults in 2012, up 69 percent for 2011, according to DRC reports.
According to union officials, Officer Deiley spent months recovering from the injuries she received in the beating and finally returned to her job in February.
Jarrett pleaded guilty in Lucas County Common Pleas Court to felonious assault for the attack on the officer and was sentenced in December to five years in prison.
The sentence was added to the 10 to 45 years he is serving for rape in Cuyahoga County and inmate harassment for an incident in 2000 at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown.
Mr. Sheldon said changes have been made in an attempt to curb violence and ease tension among inmates, including setting the prison capacity at about 1,300.
The warden also created merit blocks to house well-behaved inmates, keeping them apart from disruptive prisoners.
The prison recently received approval to hire an additional 12 corrections officers to bring the staffing level to 257, said JoEllen Smith, a DRC spokesman.
She said the department hopes to decrease overtime through improved monitoring of employees and areas with high overtime costs and other measures, such as not having mandatory training during summer months when vacation requests are high.
Mrs. Brandel said the new officers will help, but more staff is needed. “It still is not enough,” she said.
Contact Mark Reiter at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6199.