By JUSTINE McGUIRE
Capital News Service
LANSING – Officers and inmates benefit when tasers are in prisons, according to the Department of Corrections and the Michigan Corrections Organization.
According to the department, employee injuries at the hands of inmates declined 17 percent between October 2011 and March 2012 compared to the previous year. There were 233 injuries compared to 281 the year before.
Daniel Heyns, department director, said, “I knew it would work from my old days as a county sheriff.
“I knew we could change some of those violent interactions in the institutions,” he said. “I’m proud of that.”
He said the reduction in employee injuries has brought down medical costs for the department.
“We’re not fighting with inmates anymore,” he said, so the department is spending less on medical treatment.
Tasers were introduced one prison at a time through late 2011 and 2012 and were fully implemented by August 2012, said John Cordell, public information officer for the department.
Tasers were used 796 times between October 2011 and September 2012, including use on inmates, accidental discharges and displays as a deterrent. Tasers were used 890 times from October 2012 to March 2013.
Prison officers are required to give a verbal warning before using a taser. Then they can use it if the inmate doesn’t respond, Cordell said.
Andy Potter, vice president of the Michigan Corrections Organization, a union with about 7,200 members, said it had been pushing to get tasers in prisons for 15 years, and Heyns is the first director to support tasers.
“Having them inside a prison wasn’t a foreign thing to him,” Potter said.
He said the union often gets emails from officers expressing gratitude for having a taser after undergoing an incident where it came in handy.
Tasers usually deter to physical violence and are good for everyone, he said, including inmates who don’t need to be restrained physically by officers and don’t continue fighting with other inmates when a taser is used or threatened to be used.
The use of tasers helps officers keep prisoners under control and has reduced fighting, he said.
Michael Harrington, a professor of criminal justice at Northern Michigan University, said despite negative stigma, tasers have benefits and risks associated with them.
“Tasers have reduced police officer injuries on the street, so I don’t see why it wouldn’t be the same in prisons,” he said. And tasers reduce the amount of chemicals used, such as pepper spray, which pose a risk of contaminating the officers as well as inmates.
But they aren’t effective in all situations, he said. For example, tasers cannot be used at high-security prisons when inmates refuse to be removed from their cell. A taser is ineffective when deployed through the small hole in the door because the door, instead of the prisoner, receives the charge.
In addition, there’s always a risk of a taser being taken from guards and used against them or others, Harrington said.
He said that tasers have a negative stigma because of previous uses of electricity on humans, such as the electric chair, so officials want to be careful when putting tasers in institutions.
“It could be abused,” he said. “But so could any use of force. I don’t think there will be any more instances of abuse because we have tasers.”
Online resources for CNS editors:
2012 report: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/corrections/03-01-13_-_Section_911_413095_7.pdf
2011 report: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/corrections/03-01-12_-_Section_911_378734_7.pdf
Map of prisons: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/corrections/MAP_CFA-REGIONS_NOV_3_2009_308644_7.pdf
By JUSTINE McGUIRE