May 06, 2011
Jason Fornicola
(202) 639-6448

Union for Federal Prison Officers Prepared to Bargain Issuance of Stab-resistant Vests

WASHINGTON—The Council of Prison Locals (CPL) of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) secured a significant victory in its fight to have all Bureau of Prisons (BOP) correctional officers outfitted with stab-resistant vests.

BOP recently dismissed its opposition in the U.S. Court of Appeals, allowing the union’s proposal for stab-resistant vests to be negotiated through collective bargaining. AFGE and CPL have requested the issuance of stab-resistant vests to all correctional officers, who work unarmed inside federal prisons. A start date for negotiations has not been set.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to enhance worker safety,” said CPL President Bryan Lowry. “We’ve been asking the agency to responsibly issue stab-resistant vests for years. We are excited to get to the bargaining table and make that a reality.”

The union will be able to negotiate with BOP on how to issue fitted stab-resistant vests as well as maintenance, storage and cleaning of the vests. The agency previously opposed negotiating with the union on those issues.

“We’re happy that BOP has agreed to work with us on providing this critical protective equipment to correctional officers,” said AFGE National President John Gage. “Working in a prison is dangerous and employees deserve to be protected.”

For years, AFGE and its Council of Prison Locals have fought not only for protective equipment but also for additional staffing and funding at BOP. 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 to 350 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.

“We need to keep our workers safe,” said Gage. “Low staffing levels combined with a rising inmate population results in a dangerous work environment for staff. Providing protective equipment would greatly enhance worker safety and help officers defend themselves during violent outbreaks.”

Specifically, AFGE has called on BOP and Congress to: 

  • In addition to stab-resistant vests, issue non-lethal weaponry such as pepper spray to correctional officers – Assaults on officers with homemade weapons have spiked in recent years.

  • Fully fund BOP to remedy the serious correctional officer understaffing and prison inmate overcrowding problems that are plaguing the federal prison system.

  • Continue the Federal Prison Industries (FPI) work program – FPI, also known as UNICOR, is an important management tool that federal correctional officers and staff use to deal with the huge increase in the BOP prison inmate population. It helps keep 18,972 prison inmates productively occupied in labor-intensive activities, thereby reducing inmate idleness and the violence associated with that idleness. It also provides strong incentives to encourage good inmate behavior, as those who want to work in UNICOR factories must maintain a record of good behavior and must have completed high school or be making steady progress toward a General Education Degree. 

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