The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

July 13, 2013

Ohio prisons use force more often against blacks

COLUMBUS — Prison staff members use force more often against black inmates than whites, according to new state-commissioned report.

The report by the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee released Thursday showed that nearly 65 percent of “use of force” incidents in 2012 involved blacks, who make up about 46 percent of the total prison population. Force incidents involving white inmates, who make up about 52 percent of the prison population, accounted for about 34 percent of the incidents.

Overall, there was a drop in the total number of use-of-force incidents last year. The 4,203 incidents were a 17 percent drop from 2011, The Columbus Dispatch reported in a story Friday.

The committee that produced the report was created by the Legislature to help oversee the state prison system. The numbers came from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Department spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said the racial disparity in use of force is “a concern to us and something we will be looking at.”

“Force is only used as a last means to de-escalate a situation,” she said. “When force is used, there is a thorough administrative review process, and if the use of force is questioned we empower a local committee to further evaluate the incident.”

State Sen. Charleta Tavares of Columbus said part of the reason could be that the prisons have a large minority population and most corrections officers are white. She said she would urge the state prison system to “come up with solutions to correct the inequities.”

“If you don’t have an understanding, an appreciation and respect for other cultures that you’re interacting with, you’re going to make some mistakes,” she said.

The Lebanon Correctional Institution in Warren County reported the highest total number of incidents last year with 512. But that was half the number reported in 2001.

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