Mansfield, Ohio prison works to reduce inmate assaults


COLUMBUS — Inmate-on-inmate assaults nearly doubled in two years at a north-central Ohio prison, higher than the statewide average, according to a new report that also notes an increase in disturbances and low morale among guards.

The prison, Mansfield Correctional Institution, also has one of the largest inmate segregation populations in the state, and has also seen a jump in the number of payouts given to inmates because of lost property, according to the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee.

The CIIC report was issued just days before convicted rapist James Myers escaped from the prison Wednesday night, only to be recaptured 24 hours later. The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction hasn’t said how the escape happened.

The report notes the prison has “a challenging inmate population” with frequent gang-related incidents and numerous inmates transferred in because of discipline problems.

Myers was housed in a pod where inmates receive more privileges than those in a set of other, more restrictive pods, Department of Rehabilitation and Correction spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said in an email today.

Overtime costs at Mansfield — an indicator of staffing shortages — fell significantly in 2012 but are still above the statewide average, according to the CIIC, a nonpartisan legislative committee that researches prison issues in Ohio.

Despite the assault rate and other problems, the CIIC concluded that conditions are improving under Warden Terry Tibbals, with Mansfield the only Ohio correctional facility of its kind to reduce its total violent incident rate two years running.

Tibbals attributes the problems to the prison housing more problematic inmates as part of a department-wide initiative.

“Your end result is that you receive more violent, predatory, disruptive inmates and you get rid of the less violent inmates,” he said in an interview this week.

The CIIC report said inmate assaults on staff have gone done 6.5 percent from 2010 to 2012 but are still higher than the statewide average.

The union representing prison guards said the report attempts to paint too rosy a light at Mansfield and questioned the way some statistics — such as inmate-on-staff assaults — were calculated.

“The prison remains a very dangerous place to work,” said Christopher Mabe, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association.

Prison violence is always a concern, but especially now as the state’s inmate population grows despite widespread efforts to reduce the number of people behind bars.

Mansfield is one of six prisons housing Level 3 inmates, above medium security but below maximum. The six prisons all receive inmates transferred because of security problems, but Mansfield and Lebanon Correctional Institution get the most because of their size.

Another Level 3 prison, Toledo Correctional Institution, has struggle recently with violence, including two inmate homicides since September.

The state could house as many as 52,100 inmates by the end of the next two year budget cycle in June 2015, or 1,200 above projections, according to the prisons system.

That’s also several thousand more inmates than the state estimated in 2011 during a debate over a law meant to reduce the population through changes in sentencing. That estimate said Ohio would house as few as 47,000 by inmates by 2015 if the bill passed.

Inmate property that is lost, stolen or destroyed costs Ohio taxpayers more than $150,000 a year in claims reimbursement and diverted staff time, the CIIC said in a report last year that also said the cost is growing.