Despite a decrease in the prison population from 2005 to 2013, the number of “major use of force" incidents grew some 17 percent, according to statistics kept by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.The UT LBJ School's Michele Deitch expressed concern over the use of chemical agents like pepper spray on inmates “where they won’t comply with an order,” but “There’s no particular indication that there’s an immediate danger of any kind.”
While TDCJ officials say the fluctuations are random and can’t be tied to any one factor, other experts say the increase in reported use of force is a symptom of an inexperienced officer corps and an often overheated environment.
The number of “major use of force" incidents rose to 7,151 in 2013 from 6,071 incidents in 2005, according to TDCJ statistics. Jason Clark, a TDCJ spokesman said there was a change in the way the incidents were reported in 2012, which could account for some of the increased incident reporting. But he could not say how much that would have changed the numbers.
Lance Lowry, president of the Texas correctional employees union, said that most of the time force is used in confrontational situations where inmates refuse to cooperate with orders.
With many veteran correctional officers retiring, the state prison system is relying more on rookie staff members, including some who may lack the skills to “de-escalate” a confrontation before deciding to use some sort of force, Lowry said.
As a followup, it'd be interesting to know how many of those use-of-force and pepper spray incidents involved mentally ill inmates, an issue that arose in California prisons last fall. The Trib's Brandi Grissom reported last fall that use-of-force rates were highest at TDCJ's psychiatric facilities and units housing large numbers of mentally ill inmates. One also wonders how many disciplinary actions against employees resulted from these thousands of force incidents, or if TDCJ considered them all justified.