After inmates at the State Correctional Institution in Houtzdale assaulted five corrections officers and nearly rioted Tuesday, it’s offensive to read Department of Corrections spokeswoman Susan Bensinger’s comment that the incident was “resolved peacefully” when the inmates returned to their cells.
Tell that to the five officers who had to go the hospital with injuries suffered when they were outnumbered and attacked. They certainly don’t think it was resolved peacefully. The only reason there wasn’t a riot was because of the quick actions and bravery of their fellow corrections officers who rescued their co-workers and restored order within the prison.
Bensinger’s comments underscore a problem we’ve long had with the Department of Corrections: The safety of corrections officers is secondary to creating a perception that all is well within our state prisons.
Houtzdale has been a powder keg ready to burst because inmates know they can get away with assaulting officers. Assaults typically lead to 90 days’ incarceration in restricted housing units, but leadership in Houtzdale have been releasing inmates after only serving a fraction of that time. Translation: We can assault officers and the prison won’t punish us too hard for it.
This has to stop. Pennsylvania correctional officers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Each day, they protect our communities from the worst and most violent criminals.
The writer is vice president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association.