Corrections Officer Dies After Helping End Inmate Attack

(Listed left to right) Local 915 vice president Derek Magle, Council 5 associate director Tim Henderson and Local 915 president Jeff Vars address reporters at Tuesday's press conference
(Listed left to right) Local 915 vice president Derek Magle, Council 5 associate director Tim Henderson and Local 915 president Jeff Vars address reporters at Tuesday's press conference

AFSCME correctional officers are mourning the death of an Oak Parts Heights prison officer, while making bold demands for safety on the job.

Corrections officer Joseph Parise rushed to help an officer who was being attacked by an inmate at OPH Monday. That inmate punched the officer in the face approximately 15 times. Parise, along with a MAPE care manager and others, stopped the attack and restrained the inmate, and then Parise helped bring him to segregation. Within 10 minutes, Parise collapsed. He was pronounced dead at Regions Hospital.

The details of the attack and Parise’s cause of death remain unknown, said AFSCME Council 5 associate director Tim Henderson, who led a press conference Tuesday with Oak Park Heights Local 915 president Jeff Vars and vice president Derek Magle, both OPH correctional officers.

“Joe was a friend, he was a brother, a father and a husband,” Magle said, adding that Parise always put a smile on coworkers’ faces. “We were all better to have known Joe as part of our brotherhood. Joe is going to be sorely missed.”

“We’re in mourning,” Henderson said. “You don’t go to work to die.”

Parise and his wife have a toddler and a baby on the way. Parise told Vars on Saturday that he planned to ask for a transfer to Stillwater Correctional Facility – where an inmate killed Officer Joe Gomm in July – to see if he could help.

“The mood is pretty somber,” Vars said. “It’s a tough go. We support each other. It’s a close group.”

While it doesn’t appear the current attack was related to short staffing or a new segregation policy, Henderson said those issues played a role in the dramatic rise of inmate attacks on staff over the past year, including the July murder of CO Joe Gomm by an inmate.

“I can confidently say there is a correctional officer shortage in every one of our facilities,” Henderson said. He says for years, the Legislature has denied AFSCME requests for adequate staffing and not even held hearings. This coming season, adequate staffing is expected to be part of the base budget.

“We are going to ask for an increase of correctional officers, and we expect it to be approved,” he said. “We don’t expect any legislative game-playing or politics to be involved. It’s quite obvious we have safety and security issues.”

AFSCME correctional leaders have demanded that the DOC revert to its previous segregation policy. It was introduced without enough staffing. While the department won’t abandon the new policy, Henderson says it is working with AFSCME to make revisions to ensure staff safety.

“When there is a staff assault on any our members, any of our workers, we expect that offender to be punished to the highest level they can be punished,” he said.  “We’re constantly trying rob Peter to pay Paul to get programs in and put security secondary at times. It gives the offenders an opportunity to see a vulnerability in the security and safety of a facility and I think they act out.”

Henderson said the state also needs to address DOC retention and recruitment issues. AFSCME is working with the Commissioner’s Office and other unions to do so, as well as to nail down a staffing number by Oct. 15 to include in the base budget.

AFSCME correctional members are also pushing for more respect and equality in the workplace, to be heard by all levels of management and included in the decision-making process.

Part of making sure all this positive change can happen is having enough staff.  Henderson asked Minnesotans to apply in big numbers.

 “They’re good jobs,” Henderson said, pointing out there used to be applicant waiting lists in the hundreds. “There’s a lot of pride in the work these correctional officers and staff do in the state of Minnesota in these correctional facilities. We need brave men and women to step up and take on these responsibilities.

“We are not going to rest until we make sure they are safe and secure for our members and the public. We’re just not going to rest.”