Report blames "complacency" for Ohio prison stabbing

Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (Google Maps)
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COLUMBUS — Staff complacency, supervision problems, and outdated security policies and orders are among problems identified at Ohio's highest-security prisons following an attack on a correctional officer earlier this year that landed the officer in the hospital for weeks with multiple stab wounds, according to a report.

The five-page review commissioned by the state places much of the blame for the Feb. 20 attack on prison guards, while also acknowledging what guards have been saying for months: terminology used to refer to prisoner security levels is causing potentially deadly misunderstandings.

"Hesitation and confusion among staff," the report said, referring to policies and "post orders" regarding inmate classification. The Associated Press obtained the report through an open records request.

"The more confusion the department throws in about what levels of security we have for inmates, the more possibility for these episodes to exist," said Christopher Mabe, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association.

For example, old terminology used a 1-5 scale to rank inmate security levels, whereas new terminology designates just three categories of risk.

In practice, the 1-5 level language is still widespread, according to the union, a fact the report acknowledges.

To manage high-risk inmates, "local policies and post orders should be updated to reflect the new terminology," the report said. It looked at security conditions at Toledo Correctional Institution, the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville — where the attack happened — and the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, the state supermax prison.

At issue is the February assault on guard Matthew Matthias, who was escorting two inmates with the highest security level to the prison infirmary at the time.

Matthias was treated for 32 stab wounds and numerous internal injuries and was on dialysis to help his kidneys recover. Matthias is now home and recuperating but isn't expected back to work for weeks, Mabe told the AP.

The report says most of the staff at the Lucasville prison are resistant to change.

"It is probable that staff complacency significantly contributed to the February 20 incident," the report said.

The union rejected the allegation, saying officers should never have been required to move risky inmates by themselves. The union reached an agreement with the Lucasville prison in April requiring beefed-up security requirements for moving dangerous inmates.

Those include strip searches, one-on-one escorts and banning escorts after 3 p.m. except in emergencies. Mabe said that agreement is an acknowledgment by the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction that problems existed with the high-risk inmates.

State prison officials declined to comment.

The inmates involved in the attack on Matthias have violent histories, according to records.

One of them is Casey Pigge, a three-time convicted killer whose latest victim was a fellow inmate on a prison bus he strangled with a restraining chain.

The second inmate suspected in the guard's attack, Greg Reinke, was involved in an attack last year in which he stabbed four inmates after slipping out of handcuffs, according to prison incident reports of that June 2017 assault.

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