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New report bolsters efforts for protective equipment for prison guards

POSTED April 22, 2011 9:05 p.m.

A push to mandate that all correctional officers be issued protective gear while working in the nation’s prisons gained some momentum this week with the publication of a new government report.

The report, “Bureau of Prisons: Evaluating the Impact of Protective Equipment Could Help Enhance Officer Safety” by the Government Accountability Office, recommended BOP management assess whether protective equipment would improve officer safety, something the Council of Prison Locals of the American Federation of Government Employees union has long been advocating.

“We need to keep our workers safe,” said AFGE National President John Gage. “Low staffing levels combined with a rising inmate population results in a dangerous work environment for staff,” said Gage. “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:

·         Issue stab-resistant vests and non-lethal weaponry such as batons and 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.

The efforts to arm correctional officers with such equipment has been ongoing for several years, but was spurred in part by the death of correctional officer Jose Rivera at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atwater. Rivera was fatally stabbed in 2008 by two inmates armed with a homemade shank.

The release of the report also comes in the wake of another attack on a correctional officer at the Atwater facility. On April 12, an officer was struck in the face by an inmate during a routine cell search. The officer was treated at the facility by medical staff and then taken to the hospital for follow-up care.

The incident also prompted a temporary lockdown of the more than 1,500 prisoners.

“We fully support the issuance of protective equipment to our BOP correctional staff,” said CPL President Bryan Lowry. “Correctional officers are unarmed, violence is increasing and the inmate population has increased at an average rate of 6,000 new assignments each year during the last decade. Protective equipment such as batons and pepper spray would greatly enhance officer safety.”

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail sstafford@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.
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