Pep­per spray a tool to keep cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers safe in state pris­ons

It goes with­out say­ing that work­ing in a state prison or county jail is a dan­ger­ous job.

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION -

So why has it taken so long for cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers work­ing in Penn­syl­va­nia’s 26 state pris­ons to re­ceive pep­per spray to ward off at­tack­ers or break up in­mate fights?

House Bill 2084, ap­proved by the state Leg­is­la­ture last week and await­ing Gov. Tom Wolf’s sig­na­ture, will arm ev­ery prison guard with pep­per spray in what the Penn­syl­va­nia State Cor­rec­tions Of­fi­cers As­so­ci­a­tion hopes will pro­tect them.

The leg­is­la­tion was writ­ten by state Rep. Pam Sny­der, D-Jef­fer­son, and state Rep. Ti­mothy Ma­honey, D-Union­town, af­ter the two leg­is­la­tors ear­lier this year toured SCI-Fayette prison, just across the Monon­ga­hela River from Fred­er­ick­town, af­ter var­i­ous as­saults on staff mem­bers.

SCI-Greene near Way­nes­burg has its own his­tory of as­saults on of­fi­cers in the past year.

Last November, a cor­rec­tions of­fi­cer was hos­pi­tal­ized af­ter be­ing stabbed more than a dozen times by an in­mate who got his hands on a shank.

In March, an in­mate slashed an of­fi­cer trainee and, just a month later in April, an­other cor­rec­tions of­fi­cer was in­jured while try­ing to break up a fight be­tween two in­mates.

These are just the pub­li­cized at­tacks.

In all 26 state pris­ons across Penn­syl­va­nia, there were 979 as­saults on staff mem­bers be­tween Jan­uary 2015 and March 2016, ac­cord­ing to a re­port is­sued last month by the state au­di­tor gen­eral’s of­fice. That av­er­ages to about 65 as­saults per month dur­ing that time span.

“We know it’s a dan­ger­ous pro­fes­sion,” Penn­syl­va­nia State Cor­rec­tions Of­fi­cers As­so­ci­a­tion union Pres­i­dent Ja­son Bloom told the Ob­server-Re­porter last week. “When you ac­tu­ally see that num­ber on paper - that’s high.”

A pilot pro­gram to arm cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers at SCI-Fayette had al­ready be­gun, but the new leg­is­la­tion is a much-needed ini­tia­tive to help staff mem­bers at ev­ery prison.

Bloom said it will not only pro­tect cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers, but also in­mates who are be­ing at­tacked.

“It is a good thing for ev­ery­body in­side the in­sti­tu­tion,” he said. “Cur­rently at 105.8 per­cent of ca­pac­ity, our state pris­ons are burst­ing at the seams and our of­fi­cers are grossly out­num­bered.”

But why has it taken this long to im­ple­ment?

Although the to­tal cost of the pro­gram is still un­clear, it surely will save money and be less ex­pen­sive than the med­i­cal leave cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers un­dergo upon be­ing in­jured or the hospi­tal­iza­tion costs for in­mates in­volved in fights.

Once Wolf signs the leg­is­la­tion, which is ex­pected soon, the state Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions will be in charge of writ­ing a pol­icy, bid­ding out for the pep­per spray and then equip­ping the staff.

This is the best non-lethal way give cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers the pro­tec­tion they need, while also pro­tect­ing the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion.

Hope­fully the wait isn’t too much longer for those work­ing in Penn­syl­va­nia’s state pris­ons.

Although the to­tal cost of the pro­gram is still un­clear, it surely will save money and be less ex­pen­sive than the med­i­cal leave cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers un­dergo upon be­ing in­jured or the hospi­tal­iza­tion costs for in­mates in­volved in fights.

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