Correctional officers are using “major” force against inmates more often, reports the Texas Tribune. Experts point to staff turnover, inexperience and the brutal heat of Texas summers as the most likely factors. Despite a decrease in the prison population from 2005 to 2013, the number of “major use of force” incidents grew some 17 percent, according to statistics kept by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. While officials say the fluctuations are random and can't be tied to any one factor, other experts say the increase in reported use of force is a symptom of an inexperienced officer corps and an often overheated environment.
The number of “major use of force” incidents rose to 7,151 in 2013 from 6,071 incidents in 2005. Lance Lowry, president of the Texas correctional employees union, said that most of the time force is used in confrontational situations where inmates refuse to cooperate with orders. With many veteran correctional officers retiring, the state prison system is relying more on rookie staff members, including some who may lack the skills to “de-escalate” a confrontation before deciding to use some sort of force, Lowry said. Michele Deitch of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, noted another trend she called troubling in the use of chemical agents, like pepper spray, against inmates. While the overall number of times that the agents were employed between February 2013 and the same month this year was down, the reasons given do not indicate that life-threatening situations provoked their use.