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December 18, 2015

Senate Passes Bipartisan Bill To Protect Federal Correctional Officers

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) praised last night’s Senate passage of the Eric Williams Correctional Officer Protection Act (S. 238), a bill to ensure that federal correctional officers will be safer at work. Inhofe cosponsored this legislation introduced by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).

“Every day correctional officers are confronted with the very real possibility that they could become the next victim of the violent offenders they supervise, yet they are left defenseless by misguided policies,” Inhofe said. “Providing correctional officers with pepper spray is the least we can do to help ensure their safety, and it has been proven that assaults are reduced when officers are provided the protection. The tragedy that took Eric Williams’ life did not have to occur, and I am proud that the Senate has passed S. 238 with the hope that it doesn’t happen again.”

“I am extremely pleased that the Senate has acted to protect our federal correctional officers by passing bipartisan legislation guaranteeing them the use of non-lethal pepper spray,” Toomey said. “It is shocking that Bureau of Prison policy previously allowed guards to be placed on duty completely unarmed or without any defensive gear—a policy that led to the death of Officer Eric Williams in Wayne County, Pa. This victory was made possible by the tireless efforts of Eric Williams’ parents, Don and Jean Williams, who turned their family tragedy into a national effort to protect other officers.”

The Eric Williams Correctional Officer Protection Act ensures that federal correctional officers in high- and medium- security prisons are given non-lethal pepper spray for self-defense. The bill also instructs the Government Accountability Office to evaluate issuing pepper spray to guards in minimum or low-security penal facilities.

Prior to Sens. Inhofe and Toomey’s efforts, federal correctional officers were sometimes placed on duty completely unarmed—without any defensive gear or weapons, even non-lethal ones. Officer Eric Williams of the U.S. Penitentiary Canaan in Waymart, Pa. paid the price for this policy. In February 2013, the 34 year-old officer was working alone in a housing unit of 125 inmates. He carried only a radio, handcuffs, and keys. A gang member, who was serving a life sentence for first-degree murder, killed Officer Williams—beating him savagely enough to crush his skull and stabbing him with a prison-made weapon 129 times.

Oklahoma is home to two federally operated prison facilities employing correctional officers that would benefit from this legislation.

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