Congress Passes "Eric Williams Correctional Officers Protection Act
by Derek Gilna
The "Eric Williams Correctional Officers Protection Act," named after a deceased correctional officer killed by a prisoner at U.S. Penitentiary at
passed Congress by unanimous votes. The law provides authority for federal
correctional officers to carry non-lethal pepper spray in both medium and
higher security prisons. Canaan, Pennsylvania
The job of correctional officers is certainly not easy, and guards are always outnumbered by prisoners, and there are other dangers for prison employees as well. The United States Department of Justice estimates that at least one-third of all federal prisoners suffer from some form of mental illness, and the BOP has received no awards from prisoner-rights advocates for enlightened treatment of those maladies.
Representatives and Congressmen were both energetic and unanimous in their praise of the deceased guard, but hopefully they saved some of their energy for consideration of other important issues concerning prisoners: sentencing relief and reform of the broken Bureau of Prison health care and compassionate release programs. Congressional committees and the United States Sentencing Commission have both commented negatively on that agency's inability to properly administer medical care and the compassionate release program for sick, helpless prisoners who often find that even a short sentence of imprisonment can be a death sentence.
Although the arming of prison guards with pepper spray may seem a great idea to Congressmen cocooned in the fortress-like U.S. Capitol Building, to the prisoner forced to eat expired prison food, suffer substandard prison medical care, and endure the daily petty indignities of confinement, it does not seem like such a great idea. Prison guards safety depends less on armaments than on good management, fair treatment, and mutual respect, which is often hard to get given the clear inability of the Bureau of Prisons to properly manage its facilities.