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Anniversary of federal officer deaths underscores need for safer prisons, union says

Murders of two officers in two days one year ago tragic result of overcrowding, understaffing

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- One year ago tomorrow, federal correctional officer Eric Williams was stabbed to death 129 times by an inmate at a high security prison in Canaan, Pa. Williams was beaten so badly that his skull was crushed and he was unrecognizable to his parents.

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The day after Williams' murder, Bureau of Prisons Lt. Osvaldo Albarati was killed in an ambush attack while he was driving home from the Metropolitan Detention Center Guaynabo in San Juan, Puerto Rico. All indications are that his murder was a result of his investigative work at the prison.

The deaths of these two officers underscores the increasingly violent and dangerous environments in which federal corrections officers and staff must work each day and the urgent need for reform, says Eric Young, president of the American Federation of Government Employees' Council of Prison Locals, which represents more than 31,000 law enforcement professionals in the federal prison system.

"Corrections officers have the toughest beat in law enforcement. Unlike police officers in your local community, prison officers do not carry weapons and often work without a partner around the most dangerous individuals our society has ever produced," Young said. "When Eric Williams was attacked, he was working alone in an inmate housing unit containing 130 high security prisoners, many with extensive histories of violence in the community and inside the prison.

"Unfortunately, Eric's situation was not unique. Many of our prisons are overcrowded and understaffed, leaving officers vulnerable to violent incidents with increasing regularity. Correctional staff in the recreation yards often work alone with several hundred inmates, equipped with nothing more than a radio body alarm to call for help in an emergency."

Most of the country's high security federal prisons are 51 percent over capacity, while medium security facilities are 41 percent over capacity.

In light of the increasingly dangerous environment facing corrections officers, AFGE's Council of Prison Locals has developed the Safe Prisons Project, which seeks to increase safety for all staff in the Bureau of Prisons. Specifically, the campaign has three main goals:

  • Increase funding for the Bureau of Prisons to address chronic understaffing issues that put officers in danger.
  • Expand the Pepper Spray pilot program to all federal prisons so correctional officers can defend themselves.
  • Support mandatory sentencing reform by backing the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2013 (S. 1410) to reduce overcrowded federal prisons.

To learn more about the Safe Prisons Project, please visit http://www.afge.org/?Page=SafePrisonsProject.

To hear Eric Williams' father, Don, talk about his son and the dangers BOP officers face on the job, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRFhansiZkQ.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 670,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.

For the latest AFGE news and information, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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SOURCE American Federation of Government Employees

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