Alone. Unarmed.

These were the circumstances under which Federal Corrections Officer Eric Williams was working on the evening of Feb. 25, 2013.

As he was in the processes of locking down the inmates for the evening at U.S. Penitentiary, Canaan, a high-security federal prison for male inmates in northeastern Pennsylvania, Eric was assaulted by an armed inmate, and after being stabbed approximately 200 times, he lay bleeding out on the Housing Unit Floor undiscovered for another twenty minutes.

There was no other officer there to help. Because the facility at USP Canaan was not properly staffed, Eric remained alone, dying, with no one to help. The inmate who attacked him was convicted of murder in 2017.

Eric’s family and his fellow workers, combined with the efforts of some legislators from Northeast Pennsylvania, began to purs try to address the factors that contributed to his death. It took three years, but a bill was finally passed in Eric’s name that allowed pepper spray to be used by guards in the Federal Prisons — despite the agency’s opposition to it.

But staffing remains another story.

At the same time, family and supporters began work on bringing staffing strength at the federal prisons across the country to safe and efficient levels. They even formed an organization, Voices of JOE, whose name is an acronym of fallen corrections officers including Eric’s, to lobby in Washington for improved staffing.

Legislators began supporting the need for improved staffing, and over the past 11 years, millions of dollars have been allocated for that very purpose. Meanwhile, what have the various administrators of the Federal Bureau of Prisons done to improve this situation? Nothing.

First, they insisted that staffing strengths were at safe levels. That argument soon fell apart. Eliminating positions, manipulating numbers, making promises to Congress, and assuring our legislators that action was being taken have all led up to where we are at, eleven years after Eric’s murder. We are 8,000 officers short of the 20,000 officers authorized by the current administration, according to CPL-33 officials.

Eleven years of fighting for safe staffing levels has resulted in nothing significant.

How is the Bureau of Prisons able to achieve any level of inmate management? By augmenting corrections workers from non-custodial duties to cover custodial duties in housing units, etc. This practice is very unsafe for those unaccustomed to the units they are assigned to, but it also curtails other services or programs that are required. Mandated overtime is being used to the point of workers becoming fatigued, overly stressed, with their families suffering, as well. None of this lends itself to a safe and manageable environment to work in.

As Officer Eric Williams’ father, and the president of Voices of JOE which advocates for safety in these prisons, I call upon Congress to demand accountability and transparency from the Bureau of Prisons administration. They have been given the money requested for proper staffing. They need to explain to Congress:

— Where and how was this money spent?

— As they are still down by several thousand officers, what is their action plan and timeline moving forward to correct this unaddressed, ongoing, dangerous situation?

Officer Eric Williams, my son, was only 34 years old when his life ended in one violent act. Had proper safety precautions been in place, this never would have happened. The Federal Bureau of Prisons has shown they cannot be relied upon to provide a safe working environment for its employees.

I believe the time has come that Congress needs to step in on behalf of these workers and their families.

- Don Williams

President, Voices of JOE

Father of Fallen Federal Corrections Officer Eric Williams

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