Florida Corrections Officer Taken Hostage Found Unharmed

A corrections officer was taken hostage during an escape by an inmate of the Polk Corrections Institution in Polk County, Florida. On October, 19, inmate David Ross escaped while on work detail, using “an improvised sharp object” to attack corrections officer Jeffery Rexrode and take him hostage.

Ross locked four other inmates in a room at a Mosaic Park building, tying the door with a rope before escaping with the corrections officer as his hostage. The officer was not armed at the time and had no backup with him. Joe Hall, chief of the Bartow Police department explained that officers do not carry weapons when supervising work details to ensure that inmates don’t have access to guns. Bartow Police provides transportation for the Polk Corrections Institution but isn’t involved with inmate supervision during work details.

Ross forced C.O. Rexrode into a stolen city vehicle and drove to neighboring Pinellas County. Law enforcement was unaware of the escape until the four inmates who were locked up by Ross broke out of the room and asked a young woman eating lunch at the park to call 911.

Rexrode’s cell phone was tracked down by investigators and found in St. Petersburg where officers were able to apprehend Ross. The CO was located at a grocery store in the area and was unharmed.

Chief Hall credits the inmates for their quick action. “Those four guys, and in fact, the police department would not even have known something was wrong until 5 p.m. this afternoon if those inmates had not taken the action they did,” Hall said.

Ross, who was serving time for multiple felony convictions, was set for a February 2019 release. He is now facing new charges in two counties including armed kidnapping of a correctional officer, armed burglary, armed robbery, aggravated assault of a correctional officer and escape.

Correctional Center in Nome, Alaska Offers Job Training Workshops to Help Inmates Re-enter Society

In Nome, Alaska, the Anvil Mountain Correctional Center (AMCC) works with stakeholders in the community to help inmates re-enter society. As described by knom.org, one of these collaborations offers job training to inmates.

The AMCC holds these classes monthly, and as of October 2016, had four female inmates enrolled.   The facility’s Institution Probation Officer, Joe Jennetten, supervises the inmates. They currently receive training in the Job Center on how to write cover letters and resumes.

Jennetten spoke about why he likes this class. He finds that it gives the inmates the “mindset that there is hope,” as they develop skills that they will be able to present to potential employers. He mentioned fidelity bonding and tax credits as great tools that are under-utilized.

This probation officer has been involved with the job training class for both male and female inmates for around six months. He has found it to be a success that is appreciated by the inmates at the end of the session.

Another way AMCC is hoping to facilitate re-entry into society is to offer inmates the chance to get GEDs, but unfortunately the correctional center currently lacks an educational coordinator. The Alaska Department of Corrections is in charge of hiring for this position, and the local probation and correctional officers have no input into the decision.

Another struggle for the AMCC is how to handle inmates who have been arrested and are detoxing from drugs. Unfortunately, Nome lacks a detox center, and the AMCC cannot deal with such individuals.

Probation Officer Jennetten will continue working with Vickie Erickson from the Nome Job Center to offer these job training classes. The next workshop will focus on all-male inmates and will be held later in October 2016.

Correction Officer Succumbs to Stabbing After Two Weeks in the Hospital

A 44-year-old correction officer died on September 16 at University of South Alabama Hospital in Mobile, Alabama. Kenneth Bettis of Monroeville, was stabbed on September 1 while on duty at Atmore’s William C. Correctional Facility. Bettis was stabbed while patrolling the dining hall at the facility when inmate Cleveland Cunningham retaliated against him for not allowing him to have a second food tray during lunchtime.

Cunningham, who was already serving a 20 year sentence for robbery, was initially charged with attempted murder. His charge has since been upgraded to murder.

Bettis worked for Holman since 2009 and is survived by his wife and three children. He was a combat veteran who served in Iraq with the Alabama National Guard and had received the Army Achievement Medal, Army Commendation Medal and Southwest Asia Service Medal with Bronze Star. His family was by his side when he passed. The Alabama Department of Corrections Critical Stress Management Team is providing emotional support to them to help them manage their grief.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley offered his prayers and condolences to Bettis’s family. “I want to thank Officer Bettis and his family for his years of service to the people of Alabama, through his work at Holman Correctional Facility and his time serving in the Alabama Army National Guard,” said Gov. Bentley.

According to Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn, Bettis was known for being fair but firm and was respected by his colleagues.

Holman, which has a reputation for violence, also reported the stabbing of three inmates last month and a fire started within the facility. In addition, the warden and a correction officer were both stabbed during a fight between prisoners in March. Inmates have nicknamed the facility the “Slaughterhouse” because of the numerous stabbings that have occurred there.

Correctional Officer Blocks Narcotic Delivery Hidden in Tomato Sauce

A plot to infiltrate narcotics into a New York state prison was foiled recently when a corrections officer used an X-Ray machine to inspect a USPS package. The package was sent to the Cayuga Correctional Facility in Moravia on July 25 and addressed to an inmate at the facility.

The corrections officer, who was not named, received the USPS Priority box which contained two 8 ounce cans of tomato sauce. Upon inspection, the officer noticed that the cans appeared to have been tampered with and had a build-up of glue along the seams which were also indented. Further inspection with an X-Ray machine showed unidentified objects within the cans of Goya Tomato Sauce.

The officer immediately opened the suspicious looking cans, finding two balloons immersed in each of the cans of sauce. Further investigation showed that each balloon held packets of Suboxone, a prescription medicine used in the treatment of opiod addiction in adults. Each packet held a dosage of 10MG of the drug with a total of 60 packets found within the two cans.

New York State Correctional Officers Police Benevolent Associations Western Region Vice President, Joe Miano, said that inmates continue to find ways to sneak contraband into correctional facilities. “Correctional facilities are inherently dangerous workplaces for our officers, and becoming more dangerous every year as assaults, gang violence and contraband hit record levels,” he said.

In a statement Miano thanked the alertness of the officer in stopping the narcotics from entering the facility. He also said that his association continues to advocate for additional staffing and more comprehensive technology to fight this growing concern.

Correctional facilities around the country are updating their procedures to reduce the amount of contraband coming in each year. Some updates include changes to visitation policies, additional surveillance equipment and increased strip searches.

Correctional Officers Gather from Near and Far to Pay Respects to Fallen Comrade

A memorial service for Correctional Officer Kristopher D. Moules drew a large crowd of law enforcement officers who came to pay their respects.

Moules died at Pennsylvania’s Luzerne County Correctional Facility on Monday, July 18, 2016. The 25-year-old correctional officer was assailed by an inmate after a verbal argument turned physical. Moules sounded the alarm for backup, but before other officers could come to his aid, he and the inmate involved with the altercation, fell into an elevator shaft after the door accidentally opened. Both Moules and the inmate were pronounced dead at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital.

Officer Moules had been employed with the Luzerne County Corrections Department for only 10 months at the time of his death.

Correction officers at the facility are reeling from the news. “By far, this is the worst tragedy we’ve had to endure,” said Lt. Gary Seman, a veteran officer of 21 years. Moules fell five stories with 27-year-old inmate Timothy Gilliam Jr., suffering multiple traumatic injuries. His death has sent shock-waves through the community

A wake was held at Wyoming Valley West High School in Plymouth, Pennsylvania with members of the Wilkes-Barre police department guarding the facility. Moules graduated from the high school in 2009. Law enforcement officers were given a private viewing time to accommodate the mass numbers of personnel coming to show their support.

The wake was attended by members of Moules’s family as well as former teachers and schoolmates. Moules’s former high school coach, Al Bogna, remembered him as a player first but also a friend and collegue. “He’s going to be sorely missed by a lot of people,” said Brogna.

His funeral the following day drew corrections and law enforcement officers from all over the United States. A procession nearly one mile long was led by law enforcement vehicles from several districts.

“It never gets easy,” said one officer who traveled all the way from Texas.

California Jail Working to Improve Conditions for Inmates with Mental Illness

The 2015 death of 31-year-old inmate Michael Tyree in a Santa Clara County jail has expedited the county’s efforts to improve jail conditions for inmates. During a March 16th meeting of the county’s Public Safety and Justice Committee, Sheriff Laurie Smith, who has been in office since 1998, laid out her proposal for a 13-point plan that would, among other initiatives, increase officer training and give inmates improved access to mental health services in all of the county’s jails.

Tyree’s death made headlines in 2015 when he was found dead and severely beaten inside of his cell. Three officers at the Sara Clara County jail were accused of murdering Tyree, as well beating another inmate named Juan Villa. Both Tyree and Villa suffered from mental illness, sparking several controversies about how inmates with mental health issues should be classified and treated. The officers will stand trial on charges of murder and assault.

While Sheriff Smith said many of the initiatives proposed in her 13-point plan were already in place before Tyree’s death, the county is making a concerted effort to improve its handling of inmates with mental illness. Specifically, Smith proposed the following initiatives:

  • The county would formulate a specialized team prepared to de-escalate crisis situations involving inmates with mental illness
  • The county would appoint an independent inspector general, who would monitor the jails’ mental health services
  • Inmates would be given increased access to mental health services upon release from the jails
  • The jails would have an on-call team for significant use of force incidents
  • The county would establish an inmate grievances tracking system with options for inmates to better specify their complaints

Smith also detailed initiatives that would improve the Jail Classification System and raise the minimum education standard of a high school diploma for a correctional deputy. County Public Defender Molly O’Neal said that increasing the educational requirements for officers would lead to better treatment of inmates and, in turn, fewer inmate complaints.

A Closer Look Inside a Juvenile Detention Facility

The dormitory unit has plain white brick walls and a concrete floor. There are cots lined up against a wall with metal cabinets placed between every other bed. The cabinets have padlocks on them.

This is a look into the Harris County Leadership Academy, a juvenile detention and rehabilitation facility in the Houston, Texas area. Just about 100 teens live in the facility, both male and female. It used to be only male, but there was a rise in female offenders, attributed to the rise in prostitution in the Houston area, forcing the facility to accept more juveniles. The males and females are never in contact with each other.

The daily routine is very strict, and starts at 5:15 a.m. with a wake-up call. There are classes and meals spaced through the day, and once a week, the families of juveniles in the Academy can visit. This goes on for an average of six months until they are released.

Overall, the Academy keeps a tight lid on the juveniles. Anyone that’s not family has to go through a long journey of paperwork to speak to any of the residents. With so many of the youths coming out of tough families, keeping the juveniles in line with the program is key to helping them recover and move on.

The staff working in the Academy all received training on talking to teens. The chief juvenile probation officer, Tom Brooks, acknowledges that juvenile detention centers get a bad rap and can be a psychologically taxing experience for teens. As a result, part of the funding is used on mental and physical health experts, including a licensed therapist.

Keeping this facility running costs $42 million annually, funded through taxes. The program is successful with only 17% of juveniles returning to a criminal life after release.

Tennessee Governor and Commissioner Under Fire for Health and Safety Concerns in State Prisons

Governor Bill Haslam and Commissioner Derrick Schofield are under attack from House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart, D-Nashville. The chairman is blaming both Haslam and Schofield for continuing problems plaguing the Tennessee state prison system. He is calling for the governor to exclude Commissioner Schofield from an independent investigation into the issues.

The criticism is coming from all directions, including inmates and corrections officer, citing safety and transparency concerns. Commissioner Schofield is being faulted for an array of concerns ranging from inaccurately reported prison violence to the pay and scheduling of prison employees. There has also been a call by Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville to reinvestigate the mysterious death of inmate Elbert Thornton who was found unresponsive in his cell in September of 2013. Yarbro expressed a lack of confidence in the leadership and direction of the prison system. “The burden is on the governor to explain why he has faith in the commissioner’s ability to turn things around,” he said.

The governor has continually supported Commissioner Schofield, despite claims of incompetence, most recently saying that he believes Schofield is 100% the right person for the position. He has argued that outside factors have had just as much effect as inside factors on the breakdown of the system.

While there is plenty of blame to go around, Senate Correction Subcommittee members Ed Jackson, R-Jackson and Senator Ken Yager, R-Kingsport both agree that resolving the issues is of utmost importance.

For his part, Schofield has stated that the department is reviewing its definitions on violence with a completion date set for early 2016. It is also shifting towards each prison developing its own system of scheduling.

Connecticut Prison Assaults Have Union Calling for Prison Reform

A Connecticut corrections union’s leaders are lobbying for changes in the state’s policies related to dangerous prisoners after four officers were injured in a violent assault last week. The union believes the current policies are putting more officers at risk than ever before, and that change needs to happen before tragedy strikes once again.

The incident in question occurred on the 16th of November at Cheshire Correctional Institution. An inmate placed in solitary confinement with a history of violent assault obstructed his window. He was instructed by officers to remove the obstruction, but refused. When officers attempted to enter the cell, the inmate struck one, scratched another and injured two more before he was finally subdued. Afterwards, he was transferred to the Northern Correctional Institution in Somers, Connecticut and placed under higher supervision. The officers were taken to the emergency room and treated for their injuries, and they are expected to press charges against the inmate.

Rudy Demiraj, president of the union representing officers at Cheshire, said that incidents like this have increased since 2011 when the facility changed the way it handles inmates housed in its administrative section.

“The department and the Malloy administration have made changes on how Connecticut’s most dangerous and violent inmates are housed and managed,” Demiraj said. “These changes were made to appease outside interest groups and the inmate population, and are undoubtedly leading to more assaults on officers.”

Two other assaults resulting in officer injury have occurred since last July, and Demiraj and the union are hopeful that the department will consider revisions on its policies for handling inmates in the hopes of preventing attacks in the future. Continued dialogue between the corrections union and Connecticut lawmakers will be crucial in the months to come as new policy is discussed and developed.

Top Correctional Officers Say, it’s All in the Training

Correctional Officers in the state of West Virginia go through rigorous training to work at state facilities which include 10 regional jails, 18 correctional facilities and 10 juvenile detention centers.

The training for all of the officers in the state takes place at the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and public Safety Professional Development Center in the city of Glenville. The facility is 44,000 square feet and was developed with Glenville State College.

While weapons training and physical fitness are top priority for these positions, being able to verbally deescalate a situration is equally important. Correctional Officers understand that danger awaits them every day that they walk into a correctional facility. “Inmates are already mad because they’re locked up,” said Randy Purdue, a training director at the training center. He said that the spoken word can deescalate tense situations much more efficiently than the use of force.

Because of the efficacy of language versus force, cadets are taught IPC skills, or interpersonal communication. CO’s are taught to deal with clashes between inmates and conflicts that may occur between an inmate and another CO. It teaches cadets how to have composure during tense situations and is especially important for juvenile services officers.

Other training at the facility includes physical agility coursework where cadets are put through rigorous physical training to prepare them to respond quickly when another CO needs help. The regional jails require a nine-second response time, which means cadets must be in tip-top shape. Cadets must run the course in under three minutes which includes jumping hurdles and weaving through cones.

Cadets also go through knife-attack training as part of the defensive tactics required on the job. They learn that size doesn’t matter and that proper training can give the officer the edge over a larger inmate.

“It’s really about the training,” said Sgt. Daniel James, an instructor at the training center.