If it happens every time, then it’s a “problem.” But if it’s the “exception rather than the rule,” then no problem.
From the Portland Press Herald, the Maine legislature’s criminal justice committee is reviewing the use of a prison restraint and the pepper spraying of a bipolar inmate to “to ensure it is an aberration and not an ongoing practice.” What are the chances that the anyone will give them the real answer, “we don’t use it all the time; just when they deserve it”?
The inmate, Paul Schlosser, refused to go to the medical unit for a self-inflicted arm wound, suffers from bipolar disorder, a mental illness. What a surprise. So the inmate, spits at the guards, as mentally ill people sometimes do. And the staff is only there to help, in their own friendly way, because corrections is a great place for dealing with people with mental illness due to their sensitivity to their needs. So what do they do?
When all you have is a hammer and an inmate spits, you have to do something. Actually, it’s fortunate that Welsh didn’t have a hammer. Forget about the fact that this began because Schlosser needed medical treatment. Spit changes everything.
But when one of the officers pins back Schlosser’s head, as his arms are being put into the chair’s restraints, Schlosser starts to struggle. When he spits at one of the officers, Welch sprays him with pepper spray, also called OC spray.
Schlosser becomes compliant and complains about not being able to breathe. One officer puts a spit mask on him, trapping the pepper spray on Schlosser’s face.
Welch tells him he must cooperate to avoid similar treatment. Schlosser is in distress for 24 minutes before he is allowed to wash his face.
An investigator’s report on the incident, obtained by the Maine Sunday Telegram, said Welch used a pepper spray canister that was intended for multiple subjects, 18 to 20 feet away.
Thirty days, no pay, for Welch. Before you scoff at the leniency, do you have any idea how that will negatively affect his pension? The other guards, the ones who pinned Schlosser back, put him in restraints and made sure he didn’t attack again, are on the short list for promotion.
Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte said last week the incident started out with the prison staff correctly trying to get Schlosser the treatment he needed despite his resistance.
Ponte said Welch’s behavior as the incident went on was troubling, but he determined, based on Welch’s unblemished record, that a suspension was appropriate and that Welch would not be fired.
When the video of this abuse came to light, it forced legislators to get involved (because without the video, it never happend). Work, work, work.
What remains an unknown is how many prisoners are put into this restraint chair and, within inches of their face, sprayed with pepper spray, intended for use against crowds from a distance of 20 feet. How many are cool with the legislators? Is ten prisoners a year good, but 20 too many?
Gerzofsky said the committee’s role is to make sure that incidents like the one involving Welch and Schlosser are the exception and not commonplace.
Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, House chairman of the committee and former sheriff of Cumberland County, which has the state’s largest county jail, said use of force to control or manage inmate behavior is part of a corrections officer’s duties.
Not surprisingly, the answer comes not from a deep, abiding concern for the human being subjected to this treatment, but the pocketbook.
Apparently, the Maine Legislature is prepared to accept a few prisoner abuse lawsuits per year in the name of angry prison guards, but if they do it too often, they could bust the budget. That’s something the legislators just can’t accept.
The Judiciary Committee plans to hold a hearing Tuesday on a bill that seeks to prevent prisoners from filing protection-from-harassment complaints against corrections personnel.
“This process safeguards against harassment and retaliation by corrections personnel,” the statement said. “It should be obvious that this protection needs to remain in place even if used only a few times a year.”
It’s good to know that Yankee thrift and lack of concern for the abuse of prisoners remains alive and well in Maine. As long as abuse is an aberration, everybody is cool with it. Except maybe the people being abused, but it’s not like anybody really cares about mentally ill prisoners anyway.