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Prison attacks on the rise in Minnesota

Ten employees assault in one weekend at Oak Park Heights.

Posted: Apr. 19, 2018 7:03 PM

OAK PARK HEIGHTS, Minn. (AP) — Attacks on employees and inmates are on the rise at a Minnesota prison that houses the state's most violent offenders.

Inmates at Oak Park Heights assaulted 10 employees in a single weekend last month, resulting in hospitalizations. The assaults amounted to more injuries than in the previous five years combined.

Assaults against the prison's staffers rose 81 percent from 2013 to 2017, increasing from 21 attacks to 38, according to state corrections records. Assaults against inmates increased 38 percent, with 69 cases last year, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported .

All nine state prisons have seen increases in assaults against staff, rising 21 percent from 2013 to 2017, to 114 attacks. But other state prisons are seeing assaults against other inmates decrease, falling by almost half to about 500.

Looking into the increased violence is an urgent task, said Democratic Rep. Jack Considine, a member of the Public Safety and Security Policy Committee. He said three prison staffers contacted him in January about worsening conditions at Oak Park Heights.

"They (prison staff) are no different from police officers in the field," Considine said. "Their safety has got to be protected."

The prison employees said lax policies are contributing to the increase in violence, particularly with the decreasing use of solitary confinement, Considine said.

State prisons enacted rules reducing the use of solitary confinement in 2016 to fit in with national guidelines, said Sarah Fitzgerald, a spokeswoman for the state Corrections Department. The change in solitary confinement rules hasn't been proven to be the cause of the violence, she said.

"We cannot attribute a single cause to the increase," Fitzgerald said. She said other possible factors might be "mental illness, personal vendettas, gang activity or related street incidents spilling over into our facilities."

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