In September 2018, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) decided it would not use pepper spray at minimum security prisons, but did not document a reason. BOP officials said it was likely because of public perception, and because minimum security inmates are usually nonviolent offenders. Pepper spray can be used in prisons to control incidents that could lead to injuries or deaths of workers and inmates. It costs $7-14 per can plus additional costs for training on its use.
BOP first issued pepper spray to employees in high security prisons in August 2012 and to medium, low, and administrative security prisons in subsequent years.
Despite BOP’s earlier statement that minimum security inmates are usually nonviolent offenders, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) review found 47 reported incidents that included assaults on staff and other inmates across BOP’s seven minimum security prisons in 2018. In addition, 56 of 73 officials GAO interviewed said pepper spray should be expanded to minimum security prisons.
BOP officials told GAO they were not aware of an analysis of incident data or other information to support its decision but said that the decision remains appropriate. GAO recommends that BOP conduct an analysis to determine if its decision to not issue pepper spray to minimum security prisons should remain in effect. The Department of Justice concurred with the recommendation.