Ohio corrections officials plan to do nothing to stop a series of self-mutiliations occurring at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility here.
Since December, inmates at this maximum security prison have cut off five of their own fingers in protest of the State Department's refusal to allow 13 to renounce their citizenship.
"We're not in the babysitting business," said George Lehner, an Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections spokesman, shortly after two inmates were discovered amputating fingers yesterday.
"We can't take an entire guard force to watch two men." Lehner said, adding, "we have no position in the citizenship matter. It's a federal not a state matter."
Inmate David Cattano, 29, amputated his right-hand pinkie with the pull tab from a pop-top beverage can in his isolation cell yesterday morning. Richard (Red) Armstrong, 37, was subdued before he could hack through his left pinkie with a similar can top.
Both men had amputated the little fingers on their other hands about two months before in protests of the State Department's position.
"It's next to impossible to watch these men," said prison Superintendent A. J. Jago. "To stop this, they'd have to be watched 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
"And, if they didn't use a can top it would be something else," he said, adding that canteen privileges would not be removed.
In a letter dated Feb. 15, Armstrong wrote, "We're going to continue this protest until such time as the U.S. government honors our renunciations of citizenship and respects our human rights."
Last summer, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Hogan described the Lucasville facility this way: "Looking at it from a brick-and-mortar viewpoint, it is unquestionably a top-flight, first-class facility." But he also ruled that the state was subjecting inmates to cruel and unusual punishment by overcrowding them.
In December, Armstrong's finger was mailed to the State Department. Alarmed at the protest, two Justice Department attorneys flew to the 2,-100-inmate prison, 75 miles east of cincinnati, to meet the 13 protesting inmates, all of whom were convicted of crimes with no apparent political implications.
"We told them there was no possibility that the U.S. government could accede to their demand." SAID Paul Lawrence, one of the two investigating attorneys who visited the 5-year-old, $32 million facility in January.
Shortly after Lawrencehs departure, a third inmate, John Cummins, 30, who is serving 8-to-40 years, amputated his left pinkie.
Both Armstrong and Cattano have been confined to the isolation unit of the prison infirmary and will undergo psychiatric testing, according to Lehner.