Toomey, Manchin Spearhead Effort to Strengthen Protections for Federal Corrections Officers

- WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Following the introduction of the “Eric Williams Correctional Officer Protection Act of 2014,” which allows corrections officers in high and medium security prisons to carry pepper spray, U.S. Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are continuing their bipartisan efforts to protect federal protections officers.

Sens. Toomey and Manchin have introduced legislation to permit correctional officers to carry their personal firearm while they commute to-and-from work. The impetus for this bill stems from the murder of Lt. Osvaldo Albarati, a correctional officer in Puerto Rico who was gunned down while driving home from work. It is believed Albarati was murdered due to his work to end a cellphone smuggling ring at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.

Currently, federal correctional officers are extended the same enhanced ability to carry personal firearms as police and other law enforcement officers while off-duty. However, unlike other law enforcement officers, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) prohibits correctional officers from carrying firearms while commuting to-and-from work and into the prison building. Sens. Toomey and Manchin’s bill allows officers to carry their firearm and store it in either a central secure storage area located outside of the secure perimeter of a prison or in a Bureau of Prison approved vehicle lockbox while an officer is on duty.

“Providing correctional officers the ability to carry personal firearms while they commute to-and-from work is a common-sense safety measure,” said Sen. Toomey. Every day, correctional officers put themselves in harm’s way while at work. They should not have to worry about their safety while they are not on BOP grounds.”

“Day in and day out, our correctional officers work in dangerous environments to keep the rest of us safe. It is simply common sense to allow them to carry firearms on their daily commute,” Sen. Manchin said. “I was proud to also introduce with my dear friend Sen. Toomey the Eric Williams Correctional Officer Protection Act, which would allow officers to carry pepper spray on the job, and we will continue to work to ensure the safety of these brave men and women.”

Additionally, Sen. Toomey is working to protect the retirement savings of federal correctional officers. Current law designates federal correctional officers as a “hazardous duty” occupation. As a result, a correctional officer is able to retire if they’ve completed 25 years of service or completed 20 years of service and turned age 50.

Unfortunately, correctional officers are subject to a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty if they begin collecting their retirement prior to turning 59 and ½, which they frequently do. In the interest of tax fairness, Sen. Toomey has introduced a measure to waive this penalty for applicable correctional officers.

This measure has also been introduced as an amendment to a tax bill being considered by the Senate.

Sen. Toomey has also taken it upon himself to get answers to inquiries made by Pennsylvania correctional officers regarding BOP management practices. In a letter to BOP Director Charles Samuels Jr., Sen. Toomey requested information detailing the criteria for bonus payments made to executives versus non-executive BOP employees. Further, Sen. Toomey urged Director Samuels to detail its policies regarding end of fiscal year purchases.

Pennsylvania is home to seven federally operated prison facilities and thousands of federal correctional officers.

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