Late yesterday Rep. Matt Cartwright sent a letter to Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Charles E. Samuels, Jr. concerning the recent tragedy at USP Canaan. In the letter Cartwright urged Samuels to expedite the Pepper Spray Pilot Program, which allows correctional officers in Federal prisons to be in possession of pepper spray during their shifts.
Currently, Federal correction officers are not allowed to keep pepper spray on their persons. The spray is, however, allowed to be kept in personal lockers and other specific areas. In August 2012, correctional officers at some high-security federal prisons were issued pepper spray following the death of Jose Rivera, who in 2008 was stabbed to death by inmates at U.S. Penitentiary Atwater in California. The pepper spray has been distributed to high-security federal prisons in California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Florida, Virginia and Louisiana as part of the pilot project.
"With the recent tragedy at USP Canaan, I urge the Bureau of Prisons to take an immediate look at the impacts of the pilot program and work to expedite its complete implementation. As I stated in my letter to Director Samuels, we shall never know whether or not Officer Williams would have been any safer if he had pepper spray at his side, rather than in a locker. We do, though, have a responsibility to ensure that the safety of our prison guards is not needlessly jeopardized," said Cartwright.
Officials say Eric Williams, 34, was killed by an inmate who used a homemade weapon at the U.S. Penitentiary at Canaan, a high-security prison for men. He was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead about 11:30 p.m.
A copy of the letter is below.
February 28, 2013
Charles E. Samuels, Jr., Director
Bureau of Prisons
320 First St. NW
Washington, DC 20534
Dear Director Samuels,
I write to you out of the most sincere concern for the officers who guard federal prisons, many of whom are my constituents. The death of Officer Eric Williams at USP Canaan in Northeastern Pennsylvania is a tragedy. The brutal and ruthless way in which he was murdered reminds us of the danger that these brave men and women face every day. I share in the shock that this tragedy will cause our community.
While more investigation into the circumstances surrounding Officer Williams's death will bring more clarity to how to prevent these community-shaking events in the future, a simple solution may be readily available. Current policy states that pepper spray may not be carried by guards under normal circumstances. Despite this, the bureau's current policy allows for pepper-spray to be present in all BOP facilities. Currently, a warden or other designated official must authorize its use.
As you know, the pepper-spray pilot program was initiated in 2012 as a one-year test to determine whether or not it was feasible for all guards to defend themselves in this way. Six prisons were selected to receive the pepper spray, including the Atwater prison in California, which was the home to the last fatal prison attack in 2008. While all caution must be taken to ensure that our prisoners are treated humanely, and that abuses do not occur with pepper spray, now may be the ideal time to review whether or not abuse numbers have increased in the prisons currently in the pilot program, and, if they have not and the pilot has proven to increase safety, extend the pilot program to all BOP facilities.
We shall never know whether or not Officer Williams would have been any safer if he had pepper spray at his side, rather than in a locker. We do, though, have a responsibility to ensure that the safety of our prison guards is not needlessly jeopardized. I look forward to working with you and your staff on this important issue. If you need anything, feel free to contact me or staff via the information listed above. I thank you for your attention in this matter.
Member of Congress