Legislation Executive/legislative/judicial

Correctional officer safety bill on president’s desk


Photo: josefkubes/iStock/Thinkstock

Washington – A bi-partisan bill to increase safety protections for correctional officers has passed both the House and Senate and is awaiting the president’s signature to become law.

The Eric Williams Correctional Officer Protection Act of 2015 would direct the Bureau of Prisons to allow guards at medium- and high-security prisons to carry debilitating spray such as pepper spray. The bill is named for a 34-year-old correctional officer who was beaten to death in 2013 by an inmate. Williams, who was working alone, carried no self-defense equipment; he had only a radio, handcuffs and keys. According to reports, he was knocked down and stabbed more than 120 times with a prison-made weapon.

“We have an obligation to keep safe the men and women who serve in our correctional facilities,” bill co-sponsor Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) said in a press release. “The tragic murder of Eric Williams illustrates the risks they take every day just by going to work.”

The legislation follows a pilot program, launched in 2012 and subsequently expanded in 2014, that provided prison workers with pepper spray as a safety measure. The program was created in response to a 2011 Government Accountability Office report that found lower assault rates in prison facilities that allow guards to carry pepper spray.

The legislation passed the Senate in December by unanimous consent, followed by the House passing the bill in a voice vote in February. The bill was sent to President Barack Obama on March 1 but had not been signed as of press time.

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