The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction must take immediate action at Toledo Correctional Institution after this week’s death of a prisoner, the fourth in 13 months.
On Wednesday, the department removed TCI’s deputy warden, Alan Chapman. It has hired Vincent Nathan, a corrections and security consultant and lecturer at the University of Toledo, to review and evaluate prison operations.
Hiring an outside consultant should uncover systemic problems and provide a blueprint for change. But the prison must become safer immediately; the state should move to ease tensions, including freezing or reducing population levels and decreasing double-bunking.
Accountability starts at the top. Warden Ed Sheldon is certainly not responsible for all of the violence. Still, he appears to have lost control of the prison. Long-standing problems preceded this crisis, and the institution clearly needs new leadership. The department should also replace Mr. Sheldon immediately.
Correction Department spokesman JoEllen Smith said the deputy warden was not removed “as a direct result” of the prison deaths, but said additional changes may occur soon, based on Mr. Nathan’s recommendations.
Fixing, or even finding, the problems won’t happen overnight. The department should, among other things, review population levels, double-bunking policies, inmate classifications, staffing levels, program resources for prisoners, idleness, staff training, the physical plant, surveillance, and the monitoring of individuals or groups that may pose security threats, such as rival gang members.
The department is not currently double-bunking the more than 200 inmates who are considered high-security. The recent deaths, however, call into question prison classification procedures.
In little more than a year, four inmates have died after assaults at the Toledo prison. The latest victim, Michael Dodson, 38, was assaulted by his cellmate on Sunday. By comparison, only two homicides have occurred in Michigan’s entire prison system in the past seven years.
Last month, a report by the nonpartisan Correctional Institution Inspection Committee found that inmate-on-inmate assaults at the prison increased nearly 113 percent, and inmate-on-staff assaults rose nearly 74 percent, from 2010 to 2012.
The report noted that those spikes accompanied double-bunking and an increase in violent offenders at the prison to deal with statewide crowding. It cited low employee morale and high turnover.
TCI holds about 1,270 inmates, down from more than 1,600 in late 2011. Even so, the prison was designed to hold only 900 inmates. Most of the inmates — about 1,000 — are double-bunked.
Toledo is a designated control prison, designed to house high-security inmates. Higher-security inmates from other prisons arrived soon after TCI opened in 2000, but each inmate had his own cell.
In 2011, the prison began adding hundreds of inmates, including higher-security prisoners, and started to put two inmates in a cell. Double-bunking was followed by spikes in assaults. The Correctional Institution Inspection Committee warned more than two years ago that crowding could lead to more violence.
In August, inmate James Ray Oglesby, 32, was assaulted with a baseball bat in the prison yard. Another inmate, Arturo Lopez, 43, was strangled to death by his cellmate in March.
Gov. John Kasich and the General Assembly should not tolerate an institution that is unsafe for inmates or staff. Nor should taxpayers who support Ohio’s $1.5-billion-a-year prison system.