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Corrections officers union calls for harsher penalties for assaulting staff in Minnesota prisons

September 26, 2018

A surge of violence and the death of a second correctional officer at Minnesota state prisons have spurred union members to demand increased punishments for inmates who assault staff members.

At a news conference Tuesday, Tim Henderson of AFSCME Council 5 decried widespread officer shortages across the state and an unprecedented low morale among personnel.

Renewed calls for reforms come one day after Joseph Parise, 37, died after rushing to help another officer who was being assaulted by an inmate at Oak Park Heights prison.

He was one of several officers who responded at noon to break up the violent assault, which hospitalized three colleagues. He then went back to his post, where he suffered a medical emergency and collapsed, according to the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC).

The U.S. Navy veteran later died at Regions Hospital.

You dont go to work to die, Henderson said somberly.

Last year, the DOC said it requested state funding for 187 additional corrections officer positions to increase staffing and improve safety measures in its facilities.

Unfortunately, the Legislature approved only 15 of those positions, said spokeswoman Sarah Fitzgerald, adding that the DOC is committed to doing everything possible to improve safety for its workers.

To date, the DOC has recorded 53 individual staff assaults in 2018 compared to 59 last year. Yet, discipline convictions related to personnel assaults have surged 66 percent this year throughout the state.

It remains unclear whether the inmate, who has not been identified, will face charges related to Parises death.

The Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE) echoed calls for the immediate implementation of the DOCs proposed increased penalty for assaults on staff to 270-360 days in restricted housing. Some offenders who have assaulted staff have served as little as 90 days in segregation.

MAPE employees across Minnesota are extending our deepest sympathies to Officer Joseph Parises family, friends and colleagues following the corrections officers death, officials said in a statement. Joseph lost his life tragically after he had responded to yesterdays staff assault. Employees like Joseph sacrifice their lives every day they come to work on behalf of all Minnesotans.

Joseph Gomm, a 45-year-old corrections officer from Blaine, was killed in July at Stillwater prison, and an inmate is accused of the crime. Gomm was the first Minnesota corrections officer to be killed in the line of duty.

A month before his death, a corrections officer at Oak Park Heights was slashed repeatedly with a razor in the face, hands and scalp.

In March, 10 officers were injured in the same week after two fights broke out among inmates. All 10 were treated and released from a hospital that same day.

A GoFundMe page has raised $6,775 for Parises family.

This is a developing story. Return to startribune.com for updates.

Liz Sawyer 612-916-1443

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