Federal corrections officers call for increased safety on the job.
Union employees talk about the issues they say are putting their lives at risk, during an informational picket outside the Big Sandy Federal Prison.
Senior correctional officer James McCarty says patrolling prison cells like these is a far cry from his years as a sheriff's deputy.
“We were well equipped, we were given a weapon, bullet-proof vest, pepper spray,” James McCarty said.
At the Big Sandy Federal prison, guards carry none of those.
“We only have our hands, our keys, our radio, and that's it,” Billy Farthing said.
Union employees say the prison is also overcrowded and understaffed and say they do not feel safe on the job.
“It's evident in our numbers and our statistics of staff being assaulted. it's increased,” McCarty said.
In 2006 two inmates were stabbed to death. A December 2007 assault sent four to the hospital. And so far in 2008, officers estimate another 15 assaults. A prison spokesperson says safety remains the top priority, and employees can expect to have stab-resistant vests in the coming weeks.
“We have adequate staff to do the very difficult job that we have to do. Whatever funding we are provided, we take that and do the best we can,” Phil Heffington said.
Union leaders have contacted Congressman Hal Rogers. His chief of staff tells us:
"Rogers has pressed these issues directly with BOP Director Harvey Lappin both privately and publicly in congressional hearings, and has requested specific information from BOP about the steps being taken to quell violence and alleviate the pressure on staff."
Bureau of Prisons officials tell us guards do have access to less-lethal devices in emergencies, but if guards routinely carried 'less lethal devices' like mace or pepper spray, inmates could easily get a hold of them.