WASHINGTON— The American Federation of Government Employees and its Council of Prison Locals today renewed its call 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.
The call for action follows another near-deadly assault on a correctional officer in the line of duty. Cory Barron, a correctional officer at the United States Penitentiary – Pollock in Louisiana, was assaulted by an inmate last week while investigating suspicious activity in a cell. An inmate struck Barron in the head with a lock and continued to assault the officer until additional staff, armed with pepper spray, were able to intervene. Barron required immediate medical attention after the assault.
“Once again we see the critical need for additional staff and protective equipment throughout BOP,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. “In this case, the additional staff armed with pepper spray may have saved an officer’s life.”
The assault continues a dangerous outbreak of violence in BOP. Eric Williams, 34, died on 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.
In the wake of Williams’ death, BOP agreed to expand its pepper spray pilot program to all high security institutions – an increase from the seven facilities testing the program.
“The expansion of the pilot program was 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, unarmed agency in the Bureau of Prisons,” said CPL President Dale Deshotel. “What happened at USP – Pollock could happen at any facility. The president, Congress and BOP must fully staff these prisons and equip all of our officers with the proper protective equipment.”
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.
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. We won’t stop fighting until our prisons are properly staffed and our correctional officers have the equipment they need to stay safe.”
For more information on the Council of Prison Locals, please visit www.cpl33.info.