Originally Posted by cleveland.comMANSFIELD -- The Heartless Felons, a new kind of prison gang, have brazenly broke away from the unwritten convict's code -- no rapes, no robberies, no snitching, no group attacks -- and raised tensions to alarming rates at the Mansfield Correctional Institution, prison guards and officials say.
The gang formed in juvenile jails and now, slightly older but no less violent, members have migrated to the state prison system, where the Heartless Felons are wreaking havoc.
The Felons, with other gangs stocked from Cleveland streets, have squared off several times against each other, increasing the tensions at the overcrowded state prison in Mansfield and raising concerns of another Easter riot.
Attacks in Ohio prisons have doubled since 2005, from nearly 500 then to more than 1,000 last year. Guards attribute part of the increase to an influx of younger inmates and new gangs who attack in bands. The attacks have ratcheted up the anger and fear among inmates, guards and union officials said.
"These are dangerous times," said Shirley Pope, the director of the Correctional Institutional Inspection Committee, an organization established by the legislature to monitor prison conditions.
The Mansfield prison houses 2,475 inmates, though it was built for 1,536, a capacity rate of 161 percent. The prison nearly exploded March 20 when about 10 gang fights broke out.
The fights involved the Heartless Felons, the Up the Way gang and the Down the Way gang, the last two made up of inmates predominantly from Cleveland, prison officials said. In some fights, 25 gang members attacked each other. Guards and inmates suffered minor injuries.
Days later, guards filed reports with the prison's administrators that said inmates planned to go after some officers.
In Ohio, and across the country, gangs are a way of life in prison. Gangs offer protection and control the flow of drugs and valuable commodities like cigarettes. Most gangs in Ohio's penitentiaries exist exclusively within the prison system and don't have counterparts on city streets.
Some prison gangs, like the Aryan Brotherhood and the Black Gangster Disciples, are formed by race. Others, like the Up the Way and Down the Way, are created by geography. The divider between the gangs appears to be the Garden Valley housing project on Kinsman Road in Cleveland, prison guards say.
Prison officials said they are investigating the fights and working to ease the growing stress, including sending problem inmates to other prisons. Guards and administrators meet regularly to discuss the gang situation and the tension among inmates. The fights began over one group's perceived disrespect of another, prison officials said.
Mike Randle, an assistant director of the prison system, said administrators have found no indication that inmates are ready to target guards.
The problems come 16 years after the Easter riot at Lucasville prison killed nine inmates and guard Robert Vallandingham. The state group that monitors prison conditions noted in a report last month that the Lucasville riot was preceded by unfulfilled promises of more staff and reduced inmate population.
"History has proven that staff shortages alone can make it impossible for staff to follow post orders, which can result in lack of needed supervision, impacting the basic safety and security of any institution," said the report by the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee.
Prison officials said the tension at Mansfield is nowhere close to where it was at Lucasville before the riot.
But Mansfield faces similar problems of crowding and staff shortages, as the prison has 383 guards spread over four shifts. On a typical weekday afternoon shift, about 80 guards work the prison, creating a ratio as high as 30 inmates to every guard.
Mansfield's problems are compounded by the age and immaturity of some of its inmates. About 18 months ago, the prison began seeing a change when the Heartless Felons began filtering into Mansfield.
The gang's roots go back to the juvenile jails run by the Department of Youth Services, where the gang formed and battled for years with its rival, the Head Busters. As the Heartless Felons left the youth system and continued committing crimes, they were pushed to adult prisons.
The gang's members seem to have no fear of repercussions for their actions, such as being put in solitary confinement, being denied visitors or facing additional criminal charges, guards said.
Older inmates -- those in their 20s or early 30s -- who tried to steer some of the gang's 30 or so members away soon regretted it. The gang deals in intimidation, preferring six-on-one attacks, robberies and extortion. Its own bylaws indicate that its members will not fight one-on-one during attacks, guards said.
"Mansfield is overcrowded," said Pope, with the Correctional Institutional Inspection Committee. "It is understaffed and on top of that, it has this peculiar group of younger inmates who have been described as incredibly vicious."
Pope said one in four inmates in the Mansfield prison belongs to a gang or a splinter group. Overall, 662 inmates in the prison have been identified as having gang affiliations.
The prison houses dangerous offenders, with only Lucasville and the state's supermax prison near Youngstown housing greater security threats.
Last week, prison guards met with warden Keith Smith to discuss security issues and reminded him of the Easter riot in Lucasville, said Doug Mosier, a guard and the leader of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, a union at the prison.
In the past, prisons have added more staff to prevent another uprising. Mosier declined to say what precautions will be taken this year.
The prison and others across the state received some hope last week. Terry Collins, the director of the prison system, told union officials in a release that the department would not lay off 500 employees, as had been announced.
But keeping staff at the Mansfield prison may not be enough. Some older inmates have begged for transfers because they fear what might happen.
Last month, an inmate finished his sentence and was leaving the prison when he told a guard how happy he was to be getting away from the prison's problems.
In Mansfield, he was considered old.
He was 28.
It's incredible that in a span of 1 day there were 10 gang related attacks at Mansfield prison!
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