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Tasers credited with reduction in Mich. CO attacks

Official: “Staff are no longer having to physically break up inmate-on-inmate altercations”

Associated Press

LANSING — Michigan’s prison system is crediting the introduction of Tasers for a drop in attacks on its employees since the stun guns were introduced 20 months ago.

The Michigan Department of Corrections issued the electronic devices in five prisons in December 2011 and expanded the deployment systemwide last year. They have been used 576 times since Oct. 1, 2012, a rate of about twice a day.

Prisoners attacked Corrections Department employees 579 times in 2012, down from 644 in 2011 and 688 in 2010, according to the Lansing State Journal.
“Staff are no longer having to physically break up inmate-on-inmate altercations,” department spokesman Russ Marlan said. “We saw a significant number of employees injured for that reason.”

The injury statistics don’t show a significant change since Taster use began in state prisons. There were 202 minor injuries to employees in 2012, compared with 209 in 2011.

A prisoner rights advocate said Tasers should not be in prisons.

“The potential for abuse is just too great. I think you are going to have guards that are trigger-happy with the Tasers,” said Kay Perry, executive director of the Kalamazoo-based prisoner advocacy group Michigan CURE. “They require a great deal of judgment. My bottom line is to get them out of there.”

Mel Grieshaber, executive director of the Michigan Corrections Organization, a union for about 7,000 Michigan corrections officers, said abuse is unlikely because of the widespread presence of surveillance cameras in prisons.

Eight Corrections Department employees have been disciplined for inappropriate use of Tasers since the program’s inception, according to the State Journal. Officials said one officer failed to give a warning before using it, one left a Taser unsecured in a drawer, two joked they were going to stun a co-worker, two inadvertently took a Taser home, one was involved in “horseplay” with a Taser and one improperly pointed the device during a test.

One possible risk of arming guards with Tasers is that it could create a false sense of security, Grieshaber said.

“A Taser is not going to replace cutting a (corrections officer) when it comes to safety in institutions,” the union leader said. “A typical guard shift is managing 1,500 prisoners, and on a shift you might have only 40” officers.