U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell cosponsored legislation to help protect correctional officers and staff at Federal Bureau of Prison (BOP) facilities. Kentucky has five federal correctional facilities in Manchester, Pine Knot, Ashland, Inez, and Lexington, that employ almost 2,000 Kentuckians.
The Eric Williams Correctional Officer Protection Act (S.2309), named in honor of a fallen federal correctional officer killed at U.S. Penitentiary Canaan in Pennsylvania last year, is a bipartisan bill designed to allow officers who respond to emergency situations inside a federal prison to be allowed to carry and use pepper spray to help reduce violent acts inside prisons. After Officer Williams’ line of duty death, BOP started a pilot program to test the use of pepper spray at several of its facilities. This bill would make the pilot project permanent and apply to medium security prisons and above. Many state prison systems, including Kentucky’s, have long allowed correctional officers the ability to carry pepper spray for officer safety.
“I am proud to again stand with Kentucky’s courageous federal corrections officers who, while risking their lives to protect our families, should have tools such as pepper spray, to allow them to return home safely to their own families,” Senator McConnell said.
One Kentucky corrections officer said in a letter to Senator McConnell: “Allowing BOP correctional officers and employees to routinely carry pepper spray in high or medium security prisons is vitally necessary given the increasing number of violent acts committed by prison inmates.”
The legislation Senator McConnell supported builds on his work on behalf of Kentucky’s corrections officers. In 2012, Senator McConnell introduced the Federal Prisons Accountability Act, which required the Director of the BOP be subject to Senate advice and consent in hopes of bringing more accountability to the BOP and responsiveness to Congressional oversight. Under current law, the Director of the Bureau of Prisons is not subject to Senate confirmation.