Pa. senator demands answers after inmate attack at USP Canaan

Expressed concern that a "significant number" of prison workers have yet to be outfitted with pepper spray for protection despite policy changes

By Bob Kalinowski
The Citizens' Voice

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — U.S. Sen. Bob Casey is demanding answers from the head of the Federal Bureau of Prisons after another inmate attack on staff at U.S. Penitentiary at Canaan.

In the letter sent to BOP director Charles Samuels on Thursday, Casey expressed concern that a “significant number” of prison workers have yet to be outfitted with pepper spray for protection despite policy changes enacted after the murder of Correctional Officer Eric Williams, 34, of Nanticoke, at Canaan in February 2013.

“I have also been made aware of staffing challenges that could leave correctional workers at risk,” Casey said.

Last week, the prison confirmed an inmate attacked three staff members with a “prison-made weapon” at the high-security lock up in Wayne County. All three suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

Casey asks Samuels to answer a series of questions, including whether the targeted workers were carrying pepper spray. He also asks about whether a break in protocol led to last week’s assault, what safety measures are in place, and whether responding staff had proper training.

“What additional tools are available to officers to protect themselves and others and contain incidents in the event of a violent assault?” Casey asks.

Casey said he understands the director is impacted by budget cuts, but the bureau needs to do all it can to protect workers.

“Nonetheless, this incident, as well as the tragic murder of Officer Eric Williams in 2013, should serve as a stark reminder that correctional staff are vulnerable,” Casey wrote.

Casey has been a leading advocate of arming correctional workers with pepper spray, proposing bills as far back as 2011. Casey and Sen. Pat Toomey are pushing a bill named the “Eric Williams Correctional Officer Protection Act” that would give officers permanent pepper spray access and training, regardless of any shifts in Justice Department policy.

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