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Montgomery County jail is a ‘pressure cooker’ for conflict. Here’s how Dayton plans to help

Jails are “pressure cookers” where inmates and corrections staff interact in tense situations that can lead to problem behaviors and other troubles, said Michelle Zaremba, the coordinator of Dayton’s Mediation Center.

But there are some tricks to avoiding, identifying and reducing conflict, Zaremba said, and the mediation center is going to teach inmates and corrections workers at the Montgomery County Jail how to defuse conflict in its early stages.

“We all could use better conflict-management skills,” she said. “And really helping this population is important.”

The jail has faced a series of lawsuits from inmates who claimed corrections staff mistreated, abused, injured or otherwise violated their civil rights.

RELATED: 9 current lawsuits against Montgomery County Jail employees

This month, the city of Dayton approved a service agreement with the Montgomery County Jail for a four-year program that will cost the jail about $90,000 annually.

The city’s mediation center will be paid to provide conflict management services to inmates and corrections staff.

The center also will provide other mediation services, including for those inmates who are returning to the community.

Since mid-2016, the mediation center has held mediation classes for women inmates at the jail, focused on conflict management.

The classes, which are about 90 minutes, are discussions on how participants view conflict and the things they are dealing with in their lives and offering ways to “respond” instead of “react,” Zaremba said.

RELATED: Sheriffs turn to body scanners to curb drug flow into jails

Inmates discuss what to expect when returning to the community after release or when they are sent to prison, what services are available outside the jail and how they can avoid conflict and behaviors that could lead to criminal charges in the future, officials said.

Inmates have responded favorably to the classes, and the center wants to add more classes and offer them to male inmates and staff, Zaremba said.

Jails also are unique and dangerous workplaces, where issues can quickly escalate into dangerous situations and violence.

Montgomery County Jail staff will receive training in how to view conflict differently and how to respond to avoid further problems, Zaremba said.

MORE: Popular tax incentive could be history: What it would mean to Dayton

The mediation center hosts conflict-management training for municipal departments, like billing and water services, where employees deal with angry customers.

Jail inmates and staff have limited opportunities to deal with stress and conflict in productive ways since they are stuck together and can’t just walk away from a bad situation, Zaremba said.

Some ways to measure the success of the program will be if inmates are getting into trouble less frequently and whether they return to jail after release or there’s a longer period of time before re-offending, officials said.

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