Dress Out: Assaults on correction officers, and their dignity

Posted at 1:57 PM, Feb 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-16 14:40:56-05

Correction officers within the walls of prisons face many challenges a day. They sometimes deal with assaults from inmates, and one assault is not only to their physical body and health, but to their dignity.

It’s called “Dress out” assaults, or dignity assaults. It is when an inmate throws something like food or drink at the correction officer, or something viler and dangerous like blood, feces, urine and spit. For female correctional employees, inmates may expose themselves or perform self gratification in front of the correction officer.

“This happens across the country, and we are trying to curtail this behavior,” said Michigan Corrections Organization (MCO) Director of Government and Political Affairs Jeremy Tripp. “These dignity assaults are vile and offensive crimes. For some, getting dressed out, they get worried they may have contracted something if they think they got feces or blood in their mouth.”

These “dress out” assaults are felonies, punishable of up to 5 years added to a sentence, and a $2,500 fine. However, for many years these assaults have been classified and lumped with other assaults.

To show the prisoner population that the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) and MCO will not tolerate this potentially dangerous and deprived behavior, cases of being “dressed out,” will be prosecuted, and signs are being placed in the housing units of the facilities to warn inmates of the consequences for the action.

Steps being taken

“We take this very seriously,” said MDOC Public Information Officer Chris Gautz. “We want to prosecute (the offenders) and add this time to their sentence. We are clearly making sure our officers and staff know if this happens, it is not part of their job. We don’t want our officers to get the impression that this is normal behavior.”

The signs state:

To drive the point home to inmates, the MDOC and MCO have held discussions with the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Prosecuting Attorney Association for training, developing a plan and ensuring all departments and facilities are on the same page.

Bringing departments together, on the same page

Tripp explained that this initiative, called the Officer Dignity Initiative, has been in the making for two years. He said that some facilities and prosecutors throughout the state were handling and prosecuting these offenses better than others. They looked at what was being done in places where they were having successful convictions of officers being “dressed out,” and developed a plan.

“We found what the best practices were when it came to the cases referred, what (the MSP) need and what the prosecutors need for a successful conviction,” said Tripp. “As a part of that, the MDOC had an inspector training, which was raising awareness. [Some prosecuting offices] didn’t know there were funds from the MDOC that prosecutors can draw on to prosecute these cases. Knowing money is available, it opens the options when they pick and choose what cases they put their resources towards.”

The more cases that are referred to the Michigan State Police to be sent to the prosecutor’s office, the better the deterrent for the prison population, the departments hope.

Training, education to prosecute effectively

“Officers know that this is our position, but now the prison population will know with people getting brought back into court and charges being brought against them,” said Gautz, explaining that within the facility they can have other penalties such as raising the inmate’s security level, putting them in segregation. “But putting them back into court, trying them and sentencing them will hopefully be a deterring factor going forward.”

To continue that these assaults are being prosecuted appropriately and fully, the departments came together for an inspector’s training, which included tips on crime scene processing, evidence handling, writing, compiling documentation and other pieces needed for successful prosecution.

“The biggest thing was raising the education across the DOC, the Prosecuting Attorneys Association and state police so we are all on the same page,” said Tripp, explaining that previously, facilities and departments were doing things differently.