Not ‘just a whistle’: Wolf to sign bill giving state prison guards pepper spray, too

Not ‘just a whistle’: Wolf to sign bill giving state prison guards pepper

In movies and TV shows, prison guards are sometimes depicted as armed with batons, Tasers, pepper sprayand other tools they can use to deal with sometimes unruly and violent inmates.

Not in Pennsylvania state prisons, a union representing state prison guards says.

“Just a whistle. That’s it,” said Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association (PSCOA) president Jason Bloom. “This isn’t Hollywood. Officers rely on their wits and their whistle.”

But thanks to a new bill which recently passed in Harrisburg, pepper spray will be added to officers’ arsenal.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s spokesman said Friday that the governor plans to sign House Bill 2084, which will require medium to high-security prisons to issue pepper spray to prison guards.

The PSCOA pushed hard for the governor’s signature this week after the bill passed both the state House and Senate.

Bloom said state prisons are currently at 105.8 percent of capacity, and that guards badly need the additional tool.

“Our state prisons are bursting at the seams and our officers are grossly outnumbered,” Bloom said in a statement released Thursday. “It’s one more advantage we desperately need in our daily interactions with the most dangerous criminals in Pennsylvania.”

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released a report Oct. 20 that found 4,198violent incidents in the state’s 26prisonsfrom January 2015 through March 2016.

Out of those, nearly 1,000 were assaults on prison staff, and 200 were attempted assaults on staff. The report found that there were an average of 65 assaults on staff and 136 inmate fights per month.

Supporters say pepper spray could be used to break up inmate fights as well as help guards protect themselves.

The bill will become law 60 days after Wolf signs it.