OLYMPIA -- John Poynor isn't a typical crime victim.
He's a corrections officer at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell. And he's been off active duty since Oct. 31, when an inmate hit him so hard it dislocated his shoulder. He's recovering at home from shoulder surgery done last week.
The 41-year-old officer is joining an increasing group of corrections employees who want to fight back to deter such assaults.
He and other prison and county jail employees are suing inmates who assault them and are seeking financial damages they hope to collect from inmate accounts.
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State Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, is sponsoring a bill that would open the way for garnishment of inmate accounts when such damages are awarded.
Hewitt was approached by the Washington Staff Assault Task Force, a group of employees at correctional facilities and county jails, who hope to deter assaults by taking away the money inmates are sent or earn while in prison.
The group is trying the new approach after years of what organizers say is a justice system that cares more about getting criminals behind bars than prosecuting crimes committed after they are in prison.
If a police officer gets assaulted after a traffic stop, the perpetrator likely will be charged with assault. But if an inmate attacks a corrections employee, the attacker may only get some "good time" taken away by a prison hearings officer -- meaning a little more time behind bars.
"I guess they just figure they've already got them in prison," Poynor said.
About three years ago, a group of corrections employees in California got the idea of filing lawsuits to collect damages from inmates' accounts. Inmates earn money from their prison jobs, and family members and others send money to their prison accounts. It can be spent for TVs, food, shoes, almost any "extras" allowed.
"You start taking away his creature comforts, and then he might think twice about doing it again," said Darren Kelly, chairman of the Washington Staff Assault Task Force and a corrections officer at Airway Heights Correction Center near Spokane.
The group has filed 24 civil lawsuits in six counties, including Poynor's Franklin County case. But current state law stops collection of a damage award until an inmate is notified, which allows a chance to move all money out of an account. Hewitt's bill would change that.
Hewitt said he met with about 200 corrections officers last year, and he said they told him they felt being able to take away a chunk of the only money inmates have access to behind bars could be a deterrent to violence.
"The correction officers tell me it is what's important for these inmates," Hewitt said.
State budget cuts are expected to make the problem worse as the ratio of officers to inmates declines.
"It's only going to get worse," said Poynor, who lives in Richland. "When we are so out-numbered, we can't effectively control them."
Things like child support and money owed to other crime victims already come out of the accounts, Kelly said.
The bill has been referred to the Human Services & Corrections Committee.
* Cathy Kessinger: 509-582-1535; ckessinger@tricity herald.com