Pa. senators introduce protection bill for COs

Legislation would authorize the carrying of pepper spray at medium and maximum security facilities

By C1 Staff

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — New legislation in Pennsylvania would authorize both corrections officers and employees of the Bureau of Prisons to carry pepper spray at medium and maximum facilities.

According to the Times Leader, the Eric Williams Correctional Officer Protection Act of 2014 is co-sponsored by Pennsylvania’s two senators and does not include minimum security facilities.

CO Eric Williams was killed by an inmate at the U.S. Penitentiary at Canaan in Wayne County on February 25, 2013.

“I believe this joint bill is a step in the right direction,” said Eric Williams’ father, Donald Williams. “And I am very appreciative of the efforts of senators [Bob] Casey and [Pat] Toomey, and we are honored that they have named the bill in our son’s name.”

Casey has been advocating for pepper spray for COs since 2011, and introduced legislation that would create a pepper spray pilot program that started after Williams’ death.

The bill is expected to be announced as early as today or Friday.

Some points of the bill include:

• It allow the use of pepper spray in any situation in which an officer reasonably believes that an inmate poses an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to an officer, employee or other inmate.

• It would allow any worker who may be required to respond to an inmate emergency to carry pepper spray. Expanding the program to include these workers is a top priority.

• It does not require that Bureau of Prisons provide pepper spray or provide appropriations for the program, although the Bureau of Prisons has large stocks of pepper spray and providing it would not pose a significant financial burden to make it available.

• It requires officers and employees who carry pepper spray to go through annual training before being allowed to carry or use it.

• Officers and employees may use pepper spray to reduce acts of violence, including when: committed by prisoners against themselves, other prisoners, prison visitors, and officers and employees of Bureau of Prisons; or committed by prison visitors against themselves, prisoners, other visitors, and officers and employees of Bureau of Prisons.

• It requires a GAO report to study the effectiveness of issuing pepper spray to officers and employees; and an evaluation of issuing pepper spray to officers and employees of Bureau of Prisons that are in minimum security prisons.

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