Prison Guard Safety Concerns

Atwater, CA The union's request for help comes less than two weeks after authorities say Officer Jose Rivera was murdered by two inmates at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atwater.

The American Federation of Government Employees, or A.F.G.E., wants protective vests and non-lethal weapons for federal correctional officers, but it said the most important thing is more staffing.

A YouTube video shows a riot inside the Atwater prison in 2006. The officers have little to protect themselves until backup arrives with batons and flash bang devices. The union that represents federal correctional officers said it has been asking for the funding to provide better protective measures for years. But today union reps met with bureau of prisons officials to make demands. "We're demanding right now that the bureau change its policy and allow our officers, allow our officers to wear stab proof vests," said John Gage, President of A.F.G.E.

Union officials said stab-proof vests like this one, along with non-lethal weapons would help buy correctional officers more time during an attack. But they say the most critical need is for more staffing. The union reports that between 2005 and 2007 the bureau of prisons lost 2,300 staff positions, but added more than 20,000 inmates. Union officials say that means officers, including Rivera, are often left alone with more than a hundred prisoners.

Phil Glover, A.F.G.E. Council of Local Prison Coordinator said, "This kid was alone in a housing unit, and that's all I need to say about the incident, alone in a high security housing unit. He should have had backup, there should have been two officers in that unit at least."

James Spencer worked at the Atwater Penitentiary from 2001 to 2007. He said he saw a disturbing change during that time claiming the conditions changed, "from the safest to one of the most dangerous."

Spencer blames the shift largely on staff cuts. He said it can now take more than 45 seconds for back-up to arrive during an attack as opposed to just 10-15 seconds with more personnel. "Now in that time frame, in that time frame, Officer Rivera would be alive," said Spencer.

We tried contacting officials here at the Atwater Penitentiary and were referred to the Bureau of Prisons, but the bureau did not return our calls.

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