WASHINGTON— The American Federation of Government Employees and its Council of Prison Locals today called on the Obama administration, Congress and the Bureau of Prisons to immediately increase the bureau’s staffing levels and expand the use of pepper spray for correctional officers in an effort to protect staff from a dangerous spike in violence throughout the federal prison system.
“Now is the time for a culture change in the Bureau of Prisons,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. “Correctional officers are facing an unprecedented outbreak of violence while inmate population levels are rising and staffing levels falling. The workers need help.”
The call for action comes as the union mourns the loss of a correctional officer killed in the line of duty. Eric Williams, 34, died on Monday, Feb. 25 after being assaulted by an inmate with a homemade weapon at the United States Penitentiary– Canaan in northeastern Pennsylvania. Williams was employed by BOP for less than two years.
“We are deeply saddened by the senseless death of one of our correctional officers,” said Cox.“Eric Williams was a dedicated BOP employee, and this is a terrible loss. We send our heartfelt sympathies and condolences to his family and coworkers at this very difficult time.”
In the wake of Williams’ death, BOP has agreed to expand its pepper spray pilot program to all high security institutions – an increase from the seven facilities currently testing the program.
“The expansion of the pilot program is a good first step and something we’ve supported for years,”added Cox. “But it’s outrageous that an officer had to lose his life in order for the change to take place.”
The union also says serious inmate overcrowding and correctional worker understaffing plague the BOP system nationwide, and create hazardous conditions for federal prison inmates, correctional workers and the communities in which they work. Correctional officer Jose Rivera was killed in 2008 at the United States Penitentiary – Atwater by two inmates with homemade weapons. Rivera was alone at the time of the attack.
“We can no longer operate as an understaffed agency in the Bureau of Prisons,” said CPL President Dale Deshotel. “With sequestration, the crisis that plagues us will only get worse. Congress and BOP must stop this reckless game and act now to ensure the safety of our hardworking correctional officers.”
Last year, the Government Accountability Office issued a report that concluded overcrowded federal prisons put staff in danger. The report, “Growing Inmate Crowding Negatively Affects Inmates, Staff, and Infrastructure,” found BOP to be 39 percent over capacity and expects crowding to exceed 45 percent through 2018. The report also concluded increased inmate-to-staff ratios and inmate misconduct ultimately threaten the safety of BOP staff.
“I’m outraged that Congress and BOP have let this dire situation get even worse,” said Cox.“Jose Rivera’s death in 2008 should have been a wake-up call to everyone that change was needed. The GAO report confirmed what we have been saying for years. We will not stop fighting until BOP staff have the protection, equipment and adequate staffing they need to stay safe on the job.”
BOP correctional officers and other staff members inside federal prisons are unarmed, leaving them vulnerable to attacks by inmates with homemade weapons. For years, AFGE and CPL have fought not only for additional staffing and funding at BOP but also for protective equipment such as pepper spray. The need for additional resources can be seen with the countless violent outbreaks occurring at BOP facilities across the country. A correctional officer can be responsible for supervising as many as 150 inmates at once and is unarmed inside the facility. Low staffing levels and a more aggressive inmate population have led to a spike in violence – something AFGE says cannot continue.
“Federal correctional officers and staff are the foundation of a secure federal prison system,” added Cox. “Proper staffing and protective equipment are the best way to combat the rising inmate population. It’s an issue that must be addressed immediately.”
For more information on the Council of Prison Locals, please visit www.cpl33.info.