Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Prison Emergency Exercise Helps Sharpen Guards' Skills

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Prison Emergency Exercise Helps Sharpen Guards' Skills

Article excerpt

EBENSBURG, Pa. - Standing over a thick blue mat, a Cambria County Prison corrections officer posing as an inmate hurled insults and threats at his fellow officers.

Four members of the county's Correctional Emergency Response Team, or CERT, formed a line in front of the officer and tried to talk him down.

When he refused to cooperate and lunged, the team reacted, knocking the officer to the ground and pinning his arms and legs behind him. Within seconds, he was immobilized and agreed to stand down.

Friday marked the first time in nearly a decade that the prison's 31-member emergency response team has hosted such a demonstration, which included a mock cell extraction, K-9 officer exercise and inmate disturbance scenario.

Close to 100 people attended the exercise as part of annual training for the United Mine Workers of America, which represents more than a half-dozen correctional facilities in the state including Blair County.

Team co-coordinator Officer Matthew Hale said at any given time, about half a dozen of these highly trained team members are on duty at the prison and can be called on when there's a threat.

And Officer Hale - who submitted to being shot with a Taser as part of the exercise - emphasized that everyone who joins the team agrees to endure being hit with a stun gun and exposed to chemicals like pepper spray so they understand the weapons they're using and the pain they can inflict.

"Each one of these guys is a volunteer," Officer Hale said. "They risk themselves in order to be in a better position to manage conflicts inside the prison."

Officer Hale yelled through gritted teeth and two other officers held his arms as a third shot two 2-inch claw-like probes into Hale's back, delivering 20,000 volts of electricity and .004 amps through his body. …

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