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Serious Assaults on Prison Staff: A Descriptive Analysis

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 39 Issue: 2 Dated: March/April 2011 Pages: 143-150
Jon R. Sorensen; Mark D. Cunnignham; Mark P. Vigen; S.O. Woods
Date Published
April 2011
8 pages
This study examined patterns of serious inmate-on-staff assaults, as well as the characteristics of perpetrators and victims, using data from the incident files of a large State corrections system during a 14-month period.
Inmate-on-staff assaults as a whole were infrequent (53 per 100,000 inmates annually), and they were progressively more rare as the severity of the attacks increased. Attacks that required hospitalization for a non-life threatening injury or required reconstructive surgery occurred at a rate of 2.2 annually per 100,000 inmates; hospitalization for a life-threatening injury occurred at a rate of 0.5 attacks per 100,000 inmates annually. Staff assaults occurred most often in the morning and afternoon hours, and corridors were the most common location for staff assaults. Nine out of 10 assaults involved lone assailants and lone victims. Just over half of the attacks did not involve a weapon. Stabbing with a knife, shank, or other sharp object occurred in just over one-fourth of the cases. Factors associated with assaults were the movement of inmates, inmate mental health issues, or a minor argument. Nearly half of the victims of assaults were White, reflecting the racial composition of the staff, and three-fourths of the assaults involved male staff members. Staff victims had served an average of 7 years with the prison system; just over 80 percent were corrections officers. Blacks were disproportionately involved as perpetrators, although they constituted just over one-third of the prison population. Perpetrators tended to be younger, prison gang members who were serving sentences for violent offenses. The findings suggest that corrections officers must be trained to be particularly vigilant and prepared to counter assaults when moving recalcitrant inmates and when dealing with inmates who are mentally or emotionally disturbed with a history of violence. 8 tables, 6 notes, and 50 references