Correctional officers working in the nation’s prisons got some additional support recently when US Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell announced he is co-sponsoring legislation that will offer the officers much needed protection. The Eric Williams Correctional Officer Protection Act is a bipartisan bill that is intended to allow officers responding to emergencies inside Federal Bureau of Prison facilities to carry either Mace or pepper spray for use in reducing the number of violent acts perpetrated inside those prisons.
The bill is named in honor of Officer Eric Williams, a federal correctional officer who was murdered at Pennsylvania’s US Penitentiary Canaan in 2013.
Williams’ death prompted the Federal Bureau of Prisons to launch a pilot program intended to test the use of mace and pepper spray at a number of its facilities throughout the US. The bill, which has garnered the support of several high-ranking political officials, including Senator McConnell, would give permanence to the pilot program and be applicable to prisons that are classified as medium-level security or higher.
By comparison, many state prisons across the country allow correctional officers to carry mace or pepper spray for their own as well as their colleagues’ safety. Federal prisons have yet to do so.
Senator McConnell has long been a staunch supporter of his state’s (Kentucky) correctional officers as well as those throughout the United States. In 2012 he introduced the Federal Prisons Accountability Act which mandates that the Federal Bureau of Prisons director be subject to advice and consent from the US Senate. The bill was introduced with the hope that it would make the BOP more accountable to oversight by Congress.
Current law does not dictate that the director of the BOP be subject to any confirmation by the Senate. McConnell has stated that the allowance of pepper spray for correctional officers at medium and maximum security prisons is critical considering the fact that the number of violent acts committed at these facilities has been increasing over the last several years.