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The Morey Unit Hostage Incident

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On January 18th 2004, Ricky Wassenaar and Steven J. Coy subdued two correctional officers in an attempt to escape, leading to the longest prison hostage situation in history. The men responsible for the 15 day standoff, Wassenaar and Coy seriously injured one guard, and Coy raped two of the females during the standoff. According to the David J. Cieslak’s article, both men had been in trouble with the law since they were teenagers, caused problems for correctional officers, including escape attempts while incarcerated throughout their lives. Ricky Wassenaar was serving 26 years and Steven Coy was serving a life sentence. Coy, a rapist with a history of violence and convictions for aggravated assault. Wassenaar has had aggravated assault convictions and had fired at police during a robbery attempt according to online sources (azcentral 2007). According to the National Institute of Corrections, at approximately 3:15 am Wassenaar entered the prison kitchen for kitchen duty with Coy following right behind him.

Wassenaar possessed a shank and used to detain the correctional officer on kitchen duty. The National Institute of Corrections report continues explaining how he took the officers clothing and immobilized him with the handcuffs. Wassenaar’s co conspirator Coy was also armed with a shank and took the female civilian cook hostage tying her hands and feet together. Wassenaar advised the other inmates of his plans and they refused to join him. Upon their refusal he locked them in a dry storage area in the kitchen. As Wassenaar left to take over the tower, Coy raped the woman whom he had tied up earlier. Wassenaar was given access to enter the tower as he appeared to be a fellow correctional officer. The male and female correctional officers on duty in the tower were the only two present in the tower. The male officer realized Wassenaar was not a fellow officer but the realization came a little late. Wassenaar struck the male officer in the head with an object he had taken from the kitchen. As Wassenaar subdued the male and female officer, he forced his newly captivated hostages to tell him how to use each weapon in the tower (NIOC 2007).

As Wassenaar was taking over the tower, Coy had taken another correctional officer hostage and slashing the officer’s face as the officer had warned two arriving officers of the situation. The two officers chased Coy as he headed toward the tower. Wassenaar dressed in correctional officers clothing began shooting at the officers. The officers were confused and retreated to safety. Coy joined Wassenaar in the tower. Shortly after arriving in the tower Coy raped the female correctional officer. Shortly after this incident snipers, hostage negotiators, and a SWAT team were at the scene (NIOC 2007). Negotiations began and food, cigarettes, bottled water and hygiene products were delivered in return for inmates turning in certain contraband. The trading of such items went on for days. The first hostage was released on January 24th. Wassenaar released the male correctional officer. The correctional officer was taken to the hospital where they operated on the fracture from the hit to the head. Negotiations continued with small items being traded as inmates began to turn in more contraband. February 1st the nightmare began to end as Wassenaar and Coy surrendered (NIOC 2007).

Although no one died, two females were raped and two male correctional officers were injured. Survivors of rapes, violent acts, hostage situations, plane crashes, and other disastrous situations often suffer damage unseen by the majority of individuals. The survivors are left with feelings of anxiety, fear, distress and the long term affects which last years (Amazon 2007). In order to prevent future hostage situations in the Morey Unit or any other prison, The National Institute of Corrections came up with necessary changes and recommendations. The Morey Unit and prisons across the nation should make changes within the following department: inmate security, yard security, kitchen security and procedures, tower security-procedures and usage, defensive tactics-techniques and procedures communications, individual and unit response, inter-agency delivery of tactical and intelligence gathering and negotiations activities, resolution of hostage situations, and administrative- policy and budget issues (NIOC 2007).

Inmate security must be reinforced and conducted more frequently. Pat down searches should be followed with newly installed metal detectors. Inmates should be searched extensively upon entering and leaving the kitchen, if allowed in the kitchen area at all. Random, unannounced, frequent searches should be conducted for weapons and illegal contraband. The searches of inmates should be done by a task force not working at the prison but by individuals who show up and conduct the searches. The searches should be supported by updated detection equipment, trained dogs, and uncorrupted guards. In order to maintain security of inmates, the guards and anyone else entering the prison should be searched with the updated equipment and trained dogs should remain on the premises. Once outsiders or guards are found with illegal contraband legal action should be taken, dismissal, and expulsion from the premises should occur. As shanks are a common problem among inmates searches of the grounds and cells and every inch of the prison should be conducted frequently.

The shanks often are made of objects which are not detectable by a metal detector leaving searches the only means of finding them. Inmate security involves more than just patrolling the prison and keeping fights from breaking out (NIOC 2007). As for yard security more guards should be in the yard with inmates and the gravel removed where weapons can be hidden. Once new surveillance equipment is installed the yard should be watched consistently as well as other areas of the prison (NIOC 2007). The kitchen is a vulnerable area and the security and procedures for the kitchen should be improved. Kitchen duty should either be inmates who are not violent offenders or hired from the outside only. Inmates should not be trusted to work in an area where many weapons and materials to make weapons are easily accessible. If inmates are allowed to continue to work in the kitchen they should rotate as to not become familiar with the schedule of the correctional officers who are on duty.

More officers should be on duty in the kitchen and the area should be treated as there were bombs or guns present. The security in the kitchen should be tight as lives are at stake. As the security is tightened, the utensils should be guarded at all times and video cameras in place as to provide better security (NIOC 2007). The procedures for entering the tower must be changed in order to prevent a hostage situation. An established identification protocol is necessary at the Morey Unit and other prisons. There should be surveillance on the tower from another area in order to ensure the safety of the guards and the prison. The weapons in the tower should be better secured or trigger an alarm if obtained by the wrong individual. For example, codes should be punched in to gain access to the weapons. In cases of a hostage situation the code should be different. The code would allow access but set off a silent alarm alerting the staff of an intrusion. The officers in the tower should always have a weapon on their side as to prevent takeovers (NIOC 2007).

The defensive tactics and techniques must be changed in order to protect the officers. The pepper spray does not work well and there are not enough officers in the event of a takeover. Officers must be allowed to use lethal force at their discretion. If the officer is not corrupt and trained properly they will not use the force unless necessary. The officers must take classes frequently to reinforce the ability to defend themselves. Proper training and education of officers allows for better security (NIOC 2007). Communications throughout a prison are vital in the safety of inmates and correctional guards. The technology in prisons should be state of the art and always updated and tested. Surveillance should be available throughout the prison. The officers should have a communication unknown to the inmates with encrypted messages only known to guards. If all areas are under surveillance 24 hours a day, situations will not get out of control. Surveillance would not only protect the guards but put a stop to illegal contraband within the inmate’s cells and other areas of the prison.

The officers would also learn to communicate in a way to not alert the inmates, a coded messaging system. High tech surveillance and an encrypted messaging communication system would improve the safety for the guards. (NIOC 2007). The individual and unit response of officers should be improved upon in the prisons. The officers were not prepared for the takeover and the response was ineffective. The officers were not prepared and one man was able to takeover three officers with a shank. Not only should drills occur but training off of the property and off the clock should occur. In order to keep from compromising security, the individual response units should never practice in front of inmates. The officers must be prepared for any type of event and not become compromised while preparing (NIOC 2007). The correctional officers and prison staff should begin practicing tactical maneuvers and interacting with state and local law enforcement agencies. The state and local law enforcement agencies should be more familiar with the prison and the tactics practiced at the prison.

The state and local agencies should not only be familiar with the tactics but the prison structure (NIOC 2007). Resolving hostage situations are never easy and each member of the staff at the prison should take courses on how to deal with the incidents. America does not negotiate with hostage takers for any reason and the Morey Unit allowed such demands to be made. In the future this type of activity should not be allowed to continue. Giving in to small demands encourages others to attempt to do the same. Negotiations are not an option and that should be made clear in the event of it occurring again (NIOC 2007). The policies at the Morey Unit and other prisons need to be reinforced and changed. The inmate classification at the Morey Unit and other prisons should be changed. The civilian employees should join the rest of the staff in training and education as how to handle convicts. Self defense classes should be taken frequently as to learn and relearn the techniques needed to work at a prison. The policies about corruption should be reinforced.

Often time’s correctional officers overlook shanks and other illegal contraband as they do not feel threatened. Overlooking any illegal contraband should result in immediate dismissal and criminal prosecution. The number of staff at most prisons is inadequate and more guards are necessary in order to run the prison effectively and prevent disasters. The officers with little experience should be accompanied by officers with more experience. Underpaid officers and not enough officers’ leads to less protection for inmates and prison guards. Policies at each prison should be reviewed and changed to protect everyone (NIOC 2007).

Hostage situations never end well even when surrenders occur. Like other disasters the Morey Unit hostage situation ended badly proving the vulnerabilities within the security at the prison. Two male guards were injured and two women were raped. The incident should open the eyes of all prisons, jails and courts of the dangers in the lack of proper security and procedures. Corruption at some point may very well have caused the incident which is unacceptable. In the future proper training, reinforced policies, more staff and funding, and proper communications within the prisons will help prevent such disasters from occurring. Money should not be the cause of guards becoming victimized by inmates.

Azcentral.com Two Inmates had Little To Lose © 2007 Retrieved from http://www.azcentral.com/specials/special21/articles/0202prison-captors02.html September 23rd 2007 National Institute of Corrections Retrieved from http://www.nicic.org/Library/019617 September 23rd 2007 Amazon 2007 Retrieved from

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