It's been seven years since Joseph Cabrera Sablan killed Correctional Officer Jose Rivera while Rivera was on the job at USP Atwater. On Wednesday in Los Angeles, Sablan took a plea deal to serve a second life sentence, avoiding the death penalty as punishment for his crime.
AFGE Council of Prison Locals held an informational picket at the Los Angeles District Courthouse on Spring Street to show support for Officer Rivera and his family, and to condemn the plea deal given to Sablan.
Surrounded by AFGE members in the Los Angeles area, Council of Prison Locals President Eric Young remembered Officer Rivera as a man who served his community and his country at every opportunity, including a deployment to Iraq.
"Jose put it all on the line for the American people while serving in Iraq, and behind the prison walls and fences at USP Atwater," Young said. "He laid down his life so the American people can have peace of mind that dangerous criminals won't hurt their communities. America should do his family the same courtesy."
Over 50 picketers circled the front of the courthouse for over an hour, holding up signs that said "Justice for Jose" and "Protect Those Who Protect America." They came from California and beyond to stand in support as the Rivera family faced their son and brother's killer in court.
AFGE National Vice President George E. McCubbin III echoed Young's statement, adding that "The system failed Jose Rivera and his family, and it failed correctional officers nationwide."
An urgent concern among officers is that the plea bargain exposes correctional workers to more threats because it sends a messages to inmates that murdering a correctional officer is a survivable offense.
"We want everyone to know that we stand together as one," said Vincent Kirksey, a correctional worker in AFGE Local 1013 in Yazoo City, Mississippi. "To issue another life sentence is not fair, it sends a message to the inmate population that they could take a life and they don’t have to give one."
"Federal correctional officers put their lives on the line every single day," AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. said to the crowd gathered at the courthouse. "They keep America safe by making sure the most dangerous criminals in the country are taken off the street and secured behind bars. This plea agreement today makes their jobs even more dangerous, and it is an absolute outrage."
Visit the AFGE Safe Prisons Project website for more information on how the AFGE Council of Prison Locals is working to make federal correctional facilities safer for correctional workers and inmates.