Nanticoke man raising awareness of prison short-staffing

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(WBRE/WYOU) — The death of accused child sex abuser Jeffrey Epstein inside a federal prison in New York is raising questions about understaffing.

The death of the billionaire financier appears to be a suicide, but the investigation is ongoing. His death is once again raising questions about the issue of short staffing at federal prisons across the nation. It’s an issue that a Luzerne County father has been trying to resolve ever since his corrections officer son was murdered by an inmate.

Don Williams from Nanticoke says his 34-year-old son, Eric, might have survived an attack from an inmate in 2013, had there been adequate staffing at the federal prison near Waymart.

“There is staffing problems there. How much it lent itself to this, it will come out with the investigation,” Williams said.

Don Williams has been on a mission since February 2013 when his 34-year-old son Eric, a corrections officer at the federal prison near Waymart was stabbed more than 200 times by inmate Jessie Con-Ui who was serving time for murder.

There was no backup for his son who was working alone in the cellblock. Williams started a group known as the Voice of Joe, an organization that lobbies for upgrades in safety for corrections officers.

“I’ve been going down to Washington since 2013 through two administrations, three Congresses with representatives from the union trying to get somebody to do something about this staffing problem and what has happened it’s gotten worse. That’s a slap in the face to this family when the issue was my son was working alone when he was killed,” Williams said.

Darrell Palmer is a member of the union that represents corrections officers in the northeastern part of the United States. He agrees that the time for taking actions to resolve short staffing is long overdue.

“People filling in gaps, people that are mandated on a continuous basis because of staffing levels,” Palmer said.

He says the Epstein case is a classic example of how fast things can happen.

“An inmate can kill himself within five to 10 minutes. Unless you put in a suicide watch and you’re constantly monitored 24/7 these things happen in prison,” Palmer said.

Williams and the Voices of Joe were successful in getting legislation passed that allowed federal corrections officers to use pepper spray while on duty.

In recent weeks, Williams and the Voices of Joe lobbied to have what’s known as Eric’s Law introduced in Washington. It would allow prosecutors to enlist a second jury in federal death penalty cases if the first jury fails to reach a unanimous decision.

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