WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Dennis Cardoza (CA-18) said he has reintroduced legislation that would take steps to provide correctional officers in federal prisons greater protection against attacks by inmates.
H.R. 1175 would direct the Bureau of Prisons to conduct a pilot program to determine whether issuing pepper spray to correctional staff would decrease incidents of violence against them by inmates. Cardoza introduced his legislation in response to the murder of Correctional Officer Jose Rivera by two inmates at Atwater Penitentiary in his congressional district, according to a news release from his office.
“The tragic death of Officer Rivera at Atwater federal prison shocked our community, sparking outrage and shedding light on the significant danger our correctional officers face from overcrowded prisons,” said Congressman Cardoza. “My bill will pave the way for officers to carry non-lethal pepper spray so they can defend themselves against attacks from violent prisoners. Correctional officers accept a dangerous job in order to protect our communities from convicted criminals, and this is one way to reduce the threats they face every day.”
Rivera was a four-year veteran of the Navy and had completed two tours of military duty in Iraq. He began his career with the Bureau of Prisons as a correctional officer on Aug. 5, 2007, and was in his probationary year when he was murdered by two inmates in the housing unit he was supervising.
Cardoza’s news release said he has advocated in Congress for greater funding for the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and sufficient resources for correctional officers to more safely handle the dramatic increases in prison populations over the past few decades. In response to Cardoza’s requests, the Bureau of Prisons has provided correctional officers with stab-resistant vests, given local penitentiaries greater control over inmates and supplied penitentiaries with additional staff during evening and weekend watch, according to the news release.
Cardoza said he will continue to work for more resources and additional staffing at USP Atwater and other high security correctional facilities. Over the last 20 years, according to the news release, the inmate population in the federal prison system has increased by nearly 250 percent, while staffing has increased by less than 125 percent. Nationwide, the inmate-to-staff ratio is 5 to 1, a significant increase from the 1997 level of 3.7 to 1. The average institution is 38 percent over its rated capacity. The most dangerous levels of overcrowding occurr at high security facilities such as USP Atwater, which, according to the news release, are operating at an average of 52 percent over their rated capacity.