Pharos-Tribune

August 17, 2009

Juvenile facility improves safety

Staff credits quick team response, threat of pepper spray

by Kevin Lilly

Because more than 150 male offenders from across the state call Logansport Juvenile Correctional Facility home, confrontations involving the troubled youth are bound to occur on occasion.

So, along with education and rehabilitation, one of the primary goals for Superintendent Lori Harshbarger and her staff of 184 is safety. Developments in procedures over the past few months have caused a sharp decline in injuries to both staff and students.

“One of the big tools that custody staff has to preclude injuries to themselves and to the students is the OC pepper spray,” Capt. Charlie Blackburn, head of security, said during a report to community leaders.

Correction officers at juvenile facilities cannot have weapons so in 2006 they began carrying the eye-irritating chemical as deterrent. Blackburn said since then, incidents of officers using physical force after verbal attempts failed dropped significantly.

“Our student injuries and number of confrontations have come almost to zero,” he said.

Due to that success, the Logansport facility was approved for 18 additional canisters per shift.

The DOC has also implemented CARE teams, which is another method for avoiding staff and student injuries. Whenever a confrontation with a student takes place, a call for assistance is announced immediately over the radio system. Instead of just correctional officers responding, everyone from secretaries, maintenance workers and counselors show up to help defuse the situation verbally.

“And 99 percent of the time we have confrontations with our students, they just want to talk to somebody,” he said.

A new law has given one officer at each state juvenile facility the power to detain and arrest individuals on DOC property, as well as conduct searches on vehicles. Before, those caught trafficking to offenders sometimes escaped prosecution because they departed before the Indiana State Police arrived, Blackburn said.

The position, called a peace officer, requires extensive training through the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy and should be in effect later this year.

Another way trafficking will be prevented is by more intense searches of correctional officers, visitors and offenders for contraband through the Indiana Safe Prison Program. For visitors to the housing unit at the Logansport facility, Blackburn promised that officers would be “up close and personal in search procedures.”

“If you go into our secured housing area now, sometimes you may feel violated because of the way you are required to be searched,” Blackburn said. “You know you have been searched when you leave here.”