Prison murder signals need to address staffing
The vicious murder of federal corrections officer Eric Williams at the U.S. Penitentiary, Canaan, Wayne County, is a crime that cannot be fully resolved by the prosecution of his alleged killer, inmate Jesse Con-ui. As revealed by corrections officers who spoke to reporters from Times-Shamrock Newspapers, the recent murder was one in a series of extremely violent events at the high-security prison in Wayne County.
As described by the corrections officers, "high security" is merely the penitentiary's official designation, meaning that it can house very dangerous prisoners. As revealed in the circumstances of Williams's death, high security does not describe the conditions faced by officers in the prison and the inmates for whom they are responsible. According to officers interviewed, three inmates have been stabbed to death in the prison in three years, and more than a dozen inmates have been charged with assaulting officers or other inmates.
Just as Canaan houses very dangerous criminals despite not being one rung below "maximum security" within the federal system, State Correctional Institution-Coal Township is considered "medium security" but has extreme violence within its walls, too.
Assaults by inmates against other inmates or against correctional officers are routine. In addition to a March 6 incident in which a liquid was thrown by an inmate onto a guard, there have been at least three - and likely more - serious assaults dating back over the last 16 months. They include a Dec. 1, 2011, attempted homicide where an inmate stabbed another inmate in the neck with a six-inch metal shank; the Aug. 19 case of aggravated assault in which two guards were punched and kicked by an inmate; and another aggravated assault Nov. 11 in which a guard was left with a concussion and bleeding on the brain as the result of an inmate attack.
At Canaan, Williams was alone, unarmed and responsible for about 130 prisoners when he was beaten and stabbed, a situation that raises questions about staffing and procedures. The tragedy was compounded a few days later when another officer, who was in a control and surveillance room at the time of the attack, committed suicide.
Congress should conduct an inquiry into federal DOC staffing and procedures, which would have to include an honest look at whether funding levels are adequate to ensure the safety of officers and inmates. The same analysis should be applied to the state system.