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In Letter to Bureau of Prisons Director Casey Continues Push to Equip Prison Safety Officers with Pepper Spray

Washington, D.C.- Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) announced that he has sent a letter to Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director, Charles Samuels, pressing for answers following an assault on three prison workers at the U.S. Penitentiary at Canaan. In his letter Casey continued his call for expanded access to pepper spray for prison safety officers. Casey has led congressional efforts to improve safety for those who work in prisons, both by introducing legislation like the Eric Williams Correctional Officer Protection Act of 2015 and by consistently advocating for increases in funding, resources and training.

“Prison officers take incredible risks every day and our nation has an abiding obligation to ensure they have the resources needed to stay safe,” Senator Casey said. “The latest incident at Canaan raises important questions that need answering. I look forward to the BOP’s response to these questions. I will continue to press for increased access to pepper spray for prison officers and appropriate resources to maintain safety in our nation’s prisons.”

The full text of Casey’s letter can be seen below:

 Dear Director Samuels:

I write to express my concern for the victims of the inmate assault at the United States Penitentiary in Canaan, Pennsylvania on Tuesday, August 18, 2015. While I am relieved that the assaulted staff members did not sustain life-threatening injuries, this incident raises concerns about the safety of the men and women who risk their lives to work in our federal prisons.

It has come to my attention that a significant number of staff members in our federal prisons have yet to be issued pepper spray, despite the expansion of the pilot program. As you are aware, the use of pepper spray has been shown to help officers contain incidents more quickly and can also deter violent incidents like the assault at U.S.P. Canaan. I have also been made aware of staffing challenges that could leave correctional workers at risk.

I understand that this incident is likely still under investigation, but out of concern for the immediate safety of our correctional workers I have a number of specific inquiries:

  1. Was there a break in protocol that resulted in this attack?
  2. What safety measures and processes are in place to reduce the chance of an assault on correctional workers?
  3. Were the assaulted staff members equipped with pepper spray at the time of the assault?
  4. What additional tools are available to officers to protect themselves and others and contain incidents in the event of a violent assault?
  5. Were these staff members all trained correctional officers or were other support staff involved? Did the staff members who responded to the initial assault have sufficient training to handle a violent situation without putting themselves in undue danger?

With the ongoing impact of budget sequestration, I understand that the Bureau faces considerable challenges. Nonetheless, this incident, as well as the tragic murder of Officer Eric Williams in 2013, should serve as a stark reminder that correctional staff are vulnerable. We must provide them with the resources they need to protect themselves and the prison population. I appreciate your prompt attention to this matter and look forward to working with you to enhance security for federal inmates and staff.


Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr.

United States Senator

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