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State jail standards rarely enforced

The Springfield News-Sun has been investigating the death of David Piersol at the Tri-County Regional Jail for more than eight months. Coverage has included stories about overcrowding at the jail and the progress of the criminal charges against Butler.

November 2014 Ohio:

Tri-County Regional Jail leaders said all state-mandated procedures have been followed at the facility where an inmate’s fatal assault went unnoticed and no changes to staffing or surveillance methods are planned.

But a Springfield News-Sun investigation found that the current Ohio Administrative Code jail standards deviate from recommendations in a 2012 state-commissioned report, are subject to little oversight and are largely left to the discretion of the individual sheriff or jail director to implement.

“If they followed the standards, then the second question is, are the standards adequate?” said Ohio Rep. Bob Hackett R-London, who serves on the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee that’s tasked with legislative oversight of the prison system, but which has no authority over Ohio jails.

“It’s up to the experts, the sheriffs and the directors to recommend changes,” said Hackett, who represents eastern Clark County. “If the sheriffs say the system is fine, then I support the sheriffs.”

Tri-County leaders said they believe the current policies and procedures are sufficient to maintain security at the Mechanicsburg facility, and that the death of 39-year-old David Piersol in April was a tragedy that could have happened no matter how much security was in place.

“You can’t prevent everything,” said Bob Corbett, Champaign County commissioner and a member of the Tri-County jail commission, which is comprised of one commissioner each from Champaign, Madison and Union counties.

Roving patrols debated

The area of the jail where Piersol was assaulted is an open dormitory that is monitored by cameras and a patrolling officer who must inspect the dorm at least once an hour on an irregular schedule under the current standards.

The morning of April 5 a guard checked the dorm about 25 minutes before Piersol was assaulted by fellow inmate Zachary Butler, and again 20 minutes after, but didn’t report anything unusual.

About an hour later, Piersol was found seizing on the floor. He was flown to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, where he died a week later. Butler pleaded guilty to reckless homicide and tampering with evidence, and was sentenced to five years in prison earlier this month.

“Anybody can be assaulted in a matter of seconds and be rendered unconscious or even dead,” said Robert Cornwell, executive director of the Buckeye Sheriff’s Association. “Inmates have nothing but time to think of things to do.”

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction stands by the 60 minute roving patrol standard, with spokeswoman JoEllen Smith saying it’s been thoroughly vetted by professional members of the Ohio Jail Advisory Board.

But an extensive study of Ohio’s jails completed by the correction department in 2012 concluded that roving patrols should be used in conjunction with some other form of direct supervision for maximum security.

“Jails should compensate for physical plant limitations by embedding security staff where possible or otherwise increasing direct line of sight surveillance of housing and dayroom areas,” the report says. “Roving patrols, while important, are insufficient as stand-alone forms of general housing area surveillance.”

Tri-County has both direct and indirect supervision areas, according to Executive Director Scott Springhetti. Direct supervision areas have an officer on duty at all times, he said, including a 60-bed male inmate unit.

The 20-person dorm where the April incident occurred is monitored by a camera and by a roving guard who checks at least every 60 minutes, Springhetti said, in line with the state standard.

The logs tracking security checks in the indirect areas are manually reported. A 2013 state inspection report found the logs weren’t complete.

The log issue had already been addressed with staff members by April, Springhetti said. He provided complete log times from the night of the assault to the Springfield News-Sun.

Technology is available to confirm when checks are done, which is in use at the Clark County Jail.

Deputies carry an electronic sensor, which they must place up to the door of each cell when they look inside and a computer tracks that they made the check.

Tri-County’s central control also has some limited line of sight observation of the dorms, Springhetti said, but he said there is always the potential that a fight in a non-direct supervision pod could go unseen.

The Clark County Jail also doesn’t have direct supervision of all cell pods. Two deputies on each floor patrol on a roving basis, and deputies said they usually hear commotion when a fight occurs.

“If it’s quiet enough,” it is possible to miss an assault, Clark County Deputy Mieko Lyons said. “They’re not going to tell us something happened.”

Both jails use cameras, but someone doesn’t watch the feed non-stop. Clark County’s cameras don’t capture all of the pod areas because of privacy concerns with toilets and showers possibly being visible.

Tri-County hasn’t tracked whether fights occur more often in direct supervision areas or unsupervised dorms, but the 2012 report found that jails with embedded security have substantially lower rates of critical incidents, emergency room visits and assaults.

“Jails with mixed surveillance arrangements are the least secure, both overall and with regard to serious injury assaults,” the report said. “Mixed jails with direct observation command-control centers, despite relying partly on embedded security, have security index rates that are 60 percent higher than the pure forms of direct surveillance.”

The report concludes that these higher rates may be due to staffing challenges in the smaller jails, which tend to use mixed surveillance.

The 2012 report was used to shape the current state standards, Smith said.

Policies vary widely

County sheriffs or jail directors have leeway to make their own policies on issues that the state doesn’t specifically mandate.

The state, for example, doesn’t have a standard for inmate curfews.

At the Clark County Jail, it’s lights out at 10 p.m. every night. Because all of the male inmates are in pods with individual cells, they are locked down into their cell at that time.

At Tri-County, the curfew was just changed this summer to 11 p.m., seven days a week.

“Our previous directors had allowed late night access to the day-room areas on Friday and Saturday nights,” Springhetti said.

At 2 a.m. April 5, a Saturday, the inmates in Piersol and Butler’s dorm can be seen on surveillance video out of bed and milling around the common area when the fight occurred.

Springhetti said he started reviewing the policy when he took over in 2013 and now inmates are instructed to be in their bunks and to keep quiet after 11 p.m. It can be difficult to get adults to comply with a bedtime, he said, and the jail’s dorm setting prevents a physical lock-down at lights out.

The two jails also differ in dealing with accused sex offenders. Piersol was in jail awaiting trial on child rape and other charges.

Butler told investigators that Piersol was being harassed and was targeted because he was seen as a child molester.

For the first few weeks he was in the jail, Piersol was housed in an individual cell, but still had access to common areas. On March 4, he was moved into the dorm for inmates in the work release program.

Every jail has the ability to put inmates under “administrative segregation” if they feel the individual needs to be separated from the general population.

Clark County segregates almost all accused sex offenders because they are aware of the stigma those charges carry among the inmate population, Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly said, and want to avoid altercations.

But with no direct threat against Piersol or complaints from him, Springhetti said the jail had no reason to segregate him.

“There is no standard that requires them to be segregated,” he said.
Civil rights activists say more needs to be done to protect individuals accused of sex crimes.

“The level of bile is so high that accused or convicted sex offenders are becoming the targets for vigilantes,” said Bill Dobbs, a civil liberties activist who has followed Piersol’s case from New York. “This is essentially a vigilante attack on a pre-conviction detainee.”

The group Reform Sex Offender Laws Inc. in Boston issued a statement following Piersol’s death calling for a full investigation.

“Those responsible — including officials who may have improperly placed this man in general population — must be brought to justice,” it said.

Little oversight

The correction department’s Bureau of Adult Detention conducts jail inspections and enforces the minimum standards, but oversight has been inconsistent in recent years.

“We did not have jail inspections for years under the current governor,” Kelly said.

The Tri-County Jail was inspected in 2008 and then not again until 2013.

The state has two inspectors for 349 facilities, including 92 full-service jails.

“There’s nobody really watching the hen house,” said Stephen JohnsonGrove, deputy director of the prisoner rights advocacy group Ohio Justice and Policy Center.

Jails not in compliance with standards are supposed to submit an action plan. Smith said in May that the state had just increased its staff to follow up on those action plans.

The key standard that Tri-County was cited for not meeting in 2013 — having too many beds — has yet to be resolved.

The average population is 164 inmates per day, above the mandated capacity of 160. The facility has added temporary beds that can accommodate up to 200 inmates, in conflict with state standards.

The action plan Tri-County submitted to the state addresses the issue by saying, “Due to our current population, we cannot be in compliance with this standard.”

Tri-County is exploring alternative means for housing inmates in overcrowding situations, Springhetti said.

“But at this time those beds are still available,” he said.

Clark County Jail was told by inspectors in 2013 to immediately cease its practice of locking inmates out of their individual cells during the day, but that policy is still in place as well. Kelly defends the practice as key to preventing assaults because it keeps small groups of inmates together where they are more visible and accessible to guards.

“That policy has been in place for 34 years,” Kelly said.

This inspection was the first time it has been mentioned on an inspection, and Kelly hasn’t heard anything else about it from the state.

“There’s no penalties,” he said. ..Source.. by Katie Wedell

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