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Prison officers' death prompts national campaign for change

The stabbing death of a U.S. Penitentiary Atwater correctional officer has sparked a national campaign to overhaul failed safety policies across the federal prison system.

On Thursday, USA Today ran a full-page ad featuring a photo of the slain correctional officer, Jose Rivera, and an open letter from his family blaming his death on overcrowding and inadequate protections inside the penitentiary.

"Jose was taken from us because of the situation inside federal prisons today," stated the ad, which was paid for by the union that represents federal correctional officers. "Overcrowding, underfunding and depriving our officers of the tools they need to defend themselves will only lead to more violence and more lives lost. ... When will the Justice Department take action? Do more correctional officers have to die?"

Rivera, a 22-year-old Navy veteran who had worked at USP Atwater less than 11 months, died June 20 after he was attacked by two inmates wielding handmade shanks.

For years union officials have been asking the U.S. Bureau of Prisons — the Justice Department agency that oversees all federal prisons — to make changes aimed at better protecting correctional officers.

Now union officials are seizing on Rivera's death as an opportunity to finally win those changes.

Specifically, they are asking for more funding to increase staffing in all federal prisons as well as policy changes that would make stab-resistant vests and non-lethal weapons, such as batons and Tasers, standard equipment for all correctional officers.