Corrections officers at U.S. Penitentiary Atwater in California and six other tension-racked federal prisons will be armed with pepper spray, prompted in part by a 2008 murder that still haunts a California court, McClatchy Newspapers report. Urged on by members of Congress, U.S. Bureau of Prisons officials are training selected officers to use the spray canisters that can drop a violent inmate from up to 12 feet away. Although described as a “pilot program” that will formally start in several weeks, the decision marks a policy shift for officials who until now have warned against the dangers of arming prison guards.
Under the prior no-weapons policy, Atwater guard Jose Rivera carried only a radio and body alarm when two inmates turned on him June 20, 2008. They ran Rivera down, tackled the 22-year-old Navy veteran, and stabbed him repeatedly, a prison videotape shows. The two accused inmates are awaiting trial. Besides Atwater, which opened in California's Central Valley in 2001, the pepper spray will be distributed to guards at other high-security federal prisons in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Florida, Virginia. and Louisiana. The pepper spray is supposed to be deployed by August, with officials planning to study its use and effectiveness for the next year.