The Council of Prison Locals , part of the American Federation of Government Employees, is calling for protective equipment to heighten correctional officer safety in the Bureau of Prisons.
As we all know, the U.S. has an increasing prison population — in particular within the federal prison system. Though the country is facing steep federal budget cuts in so many areas, one area that clearly cannot withstand a budget cut — unless prisoners are released – is the prison system. Recently, the Federal Bureau of Prison asked for an increased budget for the fiscal year 2012, in part for the safety and security of both the prisoners and the BOP staff.
During his career in both state and federal prisons, Retired Lt. Garry L. Jones has witnessed many deaths, fights and was himself subject to death threats as a result of the violence within state and federal prisons. He speaks of some of these incidents within his relatively new book, Straight Out of Hell 2: The True Character of Man.
In his book he details an incident that involves both the safety of prison staff and a life threatening situation involving one inmate, where two fights were going on at the same time.
An inmate begged Jones — who was a correctional officer at the time — “Please don’t let me die.” The inmate was subjected to a repeated systematic stabbing from other gang members within the prison. Fortunately, Jones did not place himself in harms’ way, but instead had a colleague cover him from a tower, ready to fire his weapon if the inmates attacked him. Jones also took mental notes on some of the inmates involved in the altercation and was able to later identify them after they scattered from the stabbing.
The recent Government Accountability Office report entitled “Bureau of Prisons: Evaluating the Impact of Protective Equipment Could Help Enhance Officer Safety,” recommended that BOP management assess whether protective equipment would improve officer safety, something CPL has long advocated.
“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.”
“We can carry our weapons to and from work we have to put it in the armory,” Jones said. “As far as pepper, I’m glad they can’t carry pepper spray. An inmate can take it away from weak officers and use it against them as well as batons.”
Jones attended North Carolina Central University, earning a B.A. in Criminal Justice. He was employed by the District of Columbia Department of Corrections in Lorton, Virginia as a corrections officer. In 1988 he became a case manager at the Triangle Correctional Institute in Raleigh, and the Goldsboro Correctional Center in Goldsboro, N.C. In 1991, he began working for the U.S. Department of Justice at Federal Prison Camp Seymour Johnson, located at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, N.C.; he was later promoted to lieutenant at Federal Prison Camp Seymour Johnson only to be promoted again as senior lieutenant at FCI Tallahassee.
In July 2003, Jones retired after working a combination of 16 years for federal and state prison facilities.
Though there is a great need for safety and protection of the BOP staff from such violence, as well as the staff protecting inmates who are under attack, the prison should consider what could happen if an inmate overpowered a member of the staff.
“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. Providing protective equipment would greatly enhance worker safety and help officers defend themselves during violent outbreaks.”
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 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.
A correctional officer can be responsible for supervising as many as 150 to 350 inmates at once. Can the ever-increasing prison population be reduced with the reimplementation of federal parole for nonviolent offenders?
Jones addressed this issue of prison overcrowding when he founded his organization Advocate4Justice, which seeks to reinstate parole. Learn more by loggin on to www.advocate4justice.org.
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