Warden Defends Conditions, Procedures At Prison

By M.R. KROPKO, Associated Press Writer

AKRON, Ohio (AP) - The warden defended conditions Wednesday at Ohio's super-maximum security prison, saying cells are safe despite being tightly sealed to prevent prisoners from hurling feces at guards.

In testimony in a federal lawsuit, Ohio State Penitentiary Warden Todd Ishee defended the prison's decision to add metal strips to cell doors to seal gaps around the edges.

"We were experiencing a huge amount of inmate assaults on staff," Ishee said. "They were throwing things through the gaps," particularly feces and bodily fluids, he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has sued on behalf of inmates alleging conditions at the "supermax" prison in Youngstown are inhumane. The metal strips, plaintiffs contend, are unique to the Ohio prison system, and reduce air flow in the cells, where prisoners are confined alone 23 hours a day.

The strips also make it harder to speak to other prisoners, inmates said. "It's like being in a tomb, really," Keith Garner testified Tuesday. "Before they sealed it up, you could hear pretty good."

But Ishee said Wednesday that sealing the cells has improved safety for both prison officials and inmates walking past occupied cells.

He said cells in the prison still meet all applicable air quality standards.

ACLU attorneys are seeking reforms to the prison conditions and are asking U.S. District Judge James Gwin to establish procedures for prisoners to appeal their detention at the penitentiary.

Several inmates testified Tuesday that they have been held in the solitary confinement prison for more than two years despite rulings from prison review boards that they should be sent to lower security prisons.

The state agreed Tuesday to establish new medical procedures that will allow outside medical professionals to make treatment decisions for inmates.

As part of the suit, prisoners have said they were denied treatment for asthma, gum disease and heart problems at the prison.

The Ohio State Penitentiary was opened in 1998 to hold the most disruptive prisoners in the state and has about 335 inmates. The state says all of the prisoners there have disciplinary records that include fighting, assaulting prisoners or guards and gang activity.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)