Coworkers, friends reflect on fallen officer Joseph Parise, call for change

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After tragedy once again strikes the Department of Corrections, many members are stepping up their calls for change.

It all comes in response to the death of Officer Joseph Parise who died on duty while responding to an attack by an inmate.

"Joe was the guy who when you came into work and if you had troubles the night before, just had struggles coming into to work, he put a smile on your face," said Derek Magle, an Oak Park Heights corrections officer.

Friend, brother, father, husband. Those were the words coworkers used to describe Joe Parise.

"And we were all better to know Joe and have Joe be part of our brotherhood," Magle said.

Union officials say Parise ran across Oak Park Heights Prison on Monday to help a fellow corrections officer who had been punched in the face 15 times by an inmate. 

After helping restrain the inmate and taking him to segregation, Parise went back to his unit where he told coworkers he wasn't feeling well, collapsed and later died.

“We do know that Joe died at work on duty helping a fellow officer and keeping everyone safe, like heroes do,” said Tim Henderson, Associate Director of AFSCME Council 5. “We want any inmates involved in assaulting a corrections officer to be held at the highest level to be punished. They are already in prison, but we want them to be punished to the extent that the law allows.".

Union officials say morale is low after a series of inmate attacks on corrections officers across the state, including the death of Officer Joseph Gomm at Stillwater months ago. They also say the Department of Corrections has a recruitment and retention problem and that there are staffing shortages putting the safety of prison workers at risk.

Meanwhile, the Department of Corrections says it shares those safety concerns. A spokesperson says Corrections requested funding for 187 new officers this year, but the legislature only approved 15.

In the meantime, Parise's coworkers say they will mourn their friend and colleague, but take some comfort knowing he died as he lived - helping others.

“He thought about transferring over to Stillwater after the birth of his baby because he thought they needed help over there, the right thing to do. That's the type of person Joe is," said Jeff Vars, Oak Park Heights corrections officer.

Friends and family have set up a GoFundMe for Joseph Parise, which can be found here.