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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Chippewa Correctional Facility Adds TASERs to Its Use of Force Continuum

by Efren Paredes, Jr.

Yesterday afternoon as I was seated on a bench in the Control Center at Chippewa Correctional Facility (URF) awaiting a visit I observed three facility staff members congregate around a computer monitor.

While staff watched the screen, I began hearing sound from a video they were viewing of an incident earlier that day involving staff use of TASER-manufactured electro-shock weapons on a prisoner in one of the housing units.

I could hear officers in the video yelling at a prisoner and ordering him to go to the back of the cell. After an exchange of words, staff discharged an electro-shock weapon on the prisoner. Upon impact of the taser projectile, I could hear the prisoner who was hit hollering.

I subsequently heard one of the staff members watching the video utter in an excited tone, "Fuck yeah! Took the fight right out of 'em!"  Amused by what she observed, a female staff member watching the video immediately began laughing loudly.

The video was replayed and the same female staff member who was watching the video burst into a loud laugh once again and then walked away from the monitor. When she moved from the monitor, I observed a portion of the video before it was turned off.

The following day prisoners at the facility heard staff members talking and laughing about the tasing incident. Staff also encouraged co-workers to view the above-referenced video in the Control Center.

Last year the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) added electro-shock weapons to their arsenal as a tool to incapacitate prisoners when MDOC staff deem necessary. The MDOC entered into a $3 million contract with Michigan TASER Company until 2013.

According to URF Warden Jeffrey Woods, the weapons can be used anywhere in the facility. This includes on members of the public, if necessary. The weapons will be available at MDOC prisons across the state by July 2012.

Funding for the weapons came from rate increases to telephone calls made between prisoners and their family members. Contact between prisoners and family members is an evidence-based proven part of rehabilitation for prisoners. Despite this fact, the MDOC preyed on this demographic to fund the purchase of their new weapons.

Several staff members have expressed opposition to their colleagues being armed with electro-shock weapons inside the prison. They express this sentiment because of the potential for abuse and the increased aggression exhibited by some of the staff who are armed with the weapons. According to one staff member, "This lack of professionalism could endanger others and unnecessarily exacerbate existent tensions within the facility."

If the recent nauseating events of MDOC staff viewing the tasing video is any indication of how electro-shock weapons will be misused against prisoners, and how sadistic the culture of violence and abuse against prisoners will escalate, Michigan citizens will witness a new frontier of inhumane treatment against prisoners ushered in by the misguided decision to arm MDOC staff with electro-shock weapons.

Not surprisingly, these weapons are being discharged the most at prisons housing large numbers of mental health patients. According to MDOC staff who asked to remain anonymous, "No special consideration is given to mental health patients or prisoners with physical disabilities before tasing them. We've been told to treat each prisoner the same."

The future of assaulting prisoners with electro-shock weapons and showcasing the incident videos is pregnant with potentially myriad dark possibilities. The only thing that remains to be seen is the depth of the darkness.

Updated June 30, 2012