A state committee on Thursday issued a harsh, lengthy inspection report of the Toledo Correctional Institution, citing significant increases in assaults, high employee-turnover rates, rampant drug trading, and three homicides reported there in the past year.
The 164-page report from the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee shows that inmate-on-inmate assaults increased by nearly 113 percent and inmate-on-staff assaults increased nearly 74 percent from 2010 to 2012. The legislatively established committee monitors prison facilities, conducts unannounced inspections of prisons, and writes reports of their activities.
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Toledo Correctional spokesman Darlene Mitchell deferred comments to JoEllen Smith, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, who said that the reduction of violence there remains a top priority, and that several steps have been taken to reduce that violence.
“During the time frame reported by the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, the Toledo Correctional Institution underwent a significant mission change and began housing more high-security offenders,” Ms. Smith said. “The 2013 numbers, as noted by the CIIC, show a decrease in the number of inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff assaults and disturbance at the Toledo Correctional Institution.”
She said the facility has added additional staff resources for increased monitoring of disruptive inmates, hired nine additional correction officers, made sure that unit staff are available on evenings and weekends to address inmate concerns, and has added a second investigator, which resulted in a decrease in positive results of random drug tests from 24 percent to 3 percent, as of July.
Ms. Smith said officials have also increased video surveillance and installed thermal cameras around the perimeter, and that the warden, Ed Sheldon, is encouraging staff to provide input on any areas of improvements that could be made to increase safety and security for staff and inmates. Ms. Smith said Mr. Sheldon would not be available to comment until today.
The prison has the highest staff turnover rate — 16.5 percent — of all prisons in the state, according to the report.
Most staff resignations come while employees are being investigated, according to the report.
Toledo Correctional “has historically had challenges recruiting quality staff, particularly in health care,” the report states.
A union agreement, according to the report, leads to new staff generally being placed on the maximum security unit, since senior staff can choose assignments and the maximum security unit is the least popular to work.
“This combination is dangerous to both staff and inmates, and the operation of the maximum security unit raised concerns,” the report says.
The report also points out a low staff morale, and cited that staff had been filing complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. According to the report, most officers reported morale as average or low due to feeling unsafe and “a perceived lack of support from the administration.”
Problems in the prison became more apparent when the facility double-bunked its cells, increasing by more than 50 percent the inmate population in 2011. The following year, the facility started to take in maximum-security inmates. The report ties those changes, along with the staff turnover, and the placement of new staff in challenging circumstances to an increase in violence at the prison.
Three homicides and a suicide have occurred inside the prison in less than a year.
The most recent victim was James Ray Oglesby, 32, who was assaulted by another inmate in the facility’s recreation yard Aug. 18. He died at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center on Aug. 21.
Earlier this month, Dustin Lynch, 26, a former Toledo Correctional inmate, pleaded not guilty to two counts of aggravated murder in the March 17 strangulation at the facility of inmate Arturo Lopez, 43. Lynch also pleaded not guilty in the March 10 felonious assault of inmate Christopher Trent, 40.
In August, Lawrence Hensley, 44, pleaded guilty to aggravated murder in the Sept. 20 strangulation death of Toledo inmate Brad Hamlin, 24.
State Sen. Edna Brown (D., Toledo), who visited the prison two years ago in response to the increased violence, could not be reached for comment on Thursday. Toledo Mayor Mike Bell said Thursday night that he had not seen the report yet and so declined to comment.
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor, without mentioning the Toledo report, touched on the problem of overcrowding in the state’s prison system in a speech she delivered Thursday to the Ohio Judicial Conference.
“One thing’s for certain: Any attempt to stem the tide of growth is directly tied to sentencing, and that’s where you come in,” she told the conference. “We as judges must be part of the solution because we’re certainly part of the problem. We cannot take an attitude of out-of-sight, out-of-mind once offenders leave our courtrooms. We must be committed to working with DRC to see what improvements can be made.”
Beyond the violence at the prison, the report states concerns about the high percentage of inmates who tested positive for drugs, a backlog for medical attention, an understaffed recreation department, and “insufficient access to and existence of unit programs.”
The report does say Mr. Sheldon is aware of the concerns and is working to address them. The commission commends the warden on the “proactive and creative” implementation of missing-specific housing, adding more security cameras, and increasing staff accountability. The report did not call for any sanctions or deadlines for fixing problems.
The report and the responses by the DRC are at times detailed and revealing. For instance, the DRC says that the Toledo prison discovered people “were sneaking to the property fence line using the foliage around the prison for cover in order to throw packages containing illegal substances over the fence and onto prison property.”
The prison asked the city to clear foliage in the area to improve visibility, and the prison added razor wire to the property line fence. The report also states the prison in May “disrupted a major drug organization” that was directed by several prisoners, and several smaller drug rings were also discovered.
The DRC response says that both visitors and staff are under investigation for bringing drugs into the prison.
In other instances, however, the DRC response to the report’s findings are scant.
“Strategies for improvements and administrative changes were developed and implemented to prevent these incidents from reoccurring in the future,” the DRC response states about the three homicides, and little else.