Here are two names Pennsylvania lawmakers need to remember as legislators consider offering limited protection to corrections officers in state facilities: Eric Williams and William Amos Cramer.
Williams was the only CO on duty in 2013, covering a cell block housing more than 100 prisoners at the U.S. Penitentiary at Canaan, when he was killed after being attacked by an inmate and stabbed more 100 times. When he was attacked, Williams was carrying a set of keys, a flashlight, handcuffs and a radio. Not much protection.
Williams’ death sparked federal legislation to arm corrections officers with pepper spray, which became law earlier this year.
A similar push is now happening for state facilities. It’s smart legislation that should be fast-tracked to protect often out-numbered officers.
While federal facilities house the “worst of the worst,” state prisons are just as dangerous.
Cramer, a 24-year-old convicted killer serving a life sentence for killing a cellmate, has twice attacked state guards, including one in Frackville and another at SCI-Coal Township. The latter occurred just two days after Cramer was found guilty in the 2014 attack in Frackville.
Last November, Cramer stabbed a Coal Township corrections officer in the neck and arms with a shank made from a razor blade and other materials. It’s part of a rising tide of injuries in state facilities. Department of Corrections data show there were nearly two attacks per day on state prison employees in 2015 and one prison worker a week was seriously injured.
No one can ever say for sure whether the attack on Williams or either of Cramer’s aggressive acts could have been prevented if officer’s had been armed with pepper spray. It is, however, a safe bet to say guards would have had a better chance.
“This is a common-sense approach that is long overdue and will help officers improve the safety for everyone in a state prison,” said Jason Bloom, president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association. “The federal law had support from both parties in Congress.”
We expect support across both aisles at the state level as well, and for legislation to move quickly to protect those who put themselves in danger every day.