On Jan. 23, a bill giving corrections officers a voice in parole hearings unanimously passed the Pennsylvania House. This bill, H.B. 44, was part of Rep. Pam Snyder’s push towards protecting corrections officers.
Snyder is moving the fight from her role in the House into the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.
“Our corrections officers have a dangerous but vital job to do, and as their employer, the Department of Corrections should do everything in their power to equip them with the vital protections they need to stay safe, but that’s clearly not happening,” Snyder said in a recent news release.
According to Nate Regotti, chief of staff for Snyder, an employee at SCI-Greene was attacked with a lock inside of a sock then stabbed 35 times with a homemade shaft in January.
“This officer at SCI-Greene nearly died. We don’t need another assault that leaves an officer fighting for his or her life,” Snyder said. “We need to take a long, hard look at the policies the Department of Corrections has enacted, because it’s clear the pendulum is swinging in the wrong direction and as a result, inmates have more protections than officers, and that’s wrong and inexcusable.”
In 2016, Snyder helped to enact legislation that allows corrections officers to carry pepper spray while on duty with the intentions of protecting themselves on the job.
Regotti said the Department of Corrections is allowing management to ask for justification for why corrections officers used pepper spray on the job and if it was appropriate to use it. He described this as a “fact-finding mission.”
“This is not what we passed that bill for,” Regotti said. “This bill was passed so that the corrections officers, at their own judgement, for their own security and to maintain control inside the walls — they can use that pepper spray.”
The Department of Corrections is allowing death row inmates contact visits in the general population visiting room Regotti said.
“We’re all for the humane treatment of death row inmates, but that does not mean that they get the luxuries that well-behaved inmates that are in for minor charges receive,” Regotti said.
The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) is strongly enforced in Pennsylvania. According to Regotti, PREA is enforced by giving inmates control over who supervises them through rape accusations. Any allegation can remove that corrections officer from that position and they are to be placed somewhere else.
Snyder and Regotti attended a meeting with the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association with officers from SCI-Greene and SCI-Fayette.
“When the union asked ‘how many of you have been accused of a PREA violation?’ every single hand in the room went up,” Regotti said.
Snyder continues to fight for the safety of corrections officers amid COVID-19 concerns.
In a news release on March 12, Snyder said that she supports the Department of Corrections’ halt on visits to state prisons until further notice.
“I am pleased that the Department of Corrections took my concerns, as well as those from the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association seriously,” Snyder said. “These are responsible, proactive steps to ensure staff can go home each day without having to fear spreading this virus to their friends and loved ones.”