Correctional Officers are in Increasing Danger and Need Stab- and Slash-Resistant Body Armor

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Correctional Armor
Female guard wearing correctional armor

To enhance the safety of correctional officers it’s important to understand the capabilities of correctional armor and the various performance standards.

The amount of unprovoked attacks on police officers has risen significantly the last four years. Unfortunately, these attacks have not been limited to just the law enforcement officers protecting our streets and cities, but has extended into our jails and prisons as well, putting correctional officers at increased risk.

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics recently reported that there are more than 2.2 million people are incarcerated in jails and prisons across the country, which is roughly the number of residents living in Houston, Texas. Supervising and controlling all these inmates is the responsibility of the institution’s correctional officers, which makes them highly vulnerable to dangerous acts of violence.

Although there is no up-to-date data on the exact number of correctional officers who have been injured or killed while doing their job, recent reports show that correctional officers suffer 254 injuries in the line of duty per 10,000 full-time correctional officers (or the equivalent). This is one of the highest rates of injury related to any occupation in the U.S., with about 40% of the injuries having been caused by violent acts and/or assaults.

Types of Protective Body Armor:

  1. Ballistic resistant
  2. Stab- and slash-resistant
  3. A combination of both of the above

Body Armor Increasingly Needed in Correctional Settings

Reliable estimates indicate that nearly 90% of police officers across the U.S. have access to or routinely wear some form of protective body armor, but this percentage does not carry over to correctional officers. For those who are able to buy and use protective body armor, having a clear understanding of the different performance standards available is extremely important.

Choosing the Right Type of Correctional Armor for Correctional Facilities

Police officers in the U.S. who work the streets routinely wear ballistic resistant body armor to protect themselves against firearms, while stab- and slash-resistant body armor seems to be the choice among correctional officers. By evaluating the types of threats most likely to occur, a determination can be made as to which option would be the most appropriate for the potential situations being faced. 

National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Performance Standards

The NIJ last updated their performance standards for body armor in 2008, and these remain the only nationally recognized standards for the types of protective body armor specifically meant for police officers. Under these standards, there are five different levels of protection that apply to ballistic-resistant body armor, which is what police officers need most.

There are three protection levels assigned to stab- and slash-resistant body armor, which is what correctional officers need most. Plus this type of body armor is separated into two different classifications. The various standards relate to the expected level and type of threat that an officer would likely face.

NIJ Standards Set for Stab- and Slash-Resistant Protective Body Armor

Offering sufficient bodily protection from knives would depend on how sharp and how pointed the knife was, how the blade was designed and made, the angle of attack and the skill level and strength of the attacker. Since there are so many variables to consider the standards for stab- and slash-resistant body armor are differentiated into two distinct and separate threat classifications with three protection levels in each.

The Two NIJ Classifications for Correctional Armor

  1. Edged Blade Class: This protection class is specifically for the type of threats likely faced by police officers working the streets. These threats would likely involve top-quality commercially manufactured knife blades with extremely sharp edges.
  2. Spike Class: This classification is intended to protect against the type of threats most often posed in a correctional facility where the knife blades are of poor quality and where spiked weapons of various configurations are commonplace.

Performance Standards for Correctional Armor

Each of the two protection classes for stab- and slash-resistant body armor has three separate levels of protection to choose from depending on the degree of force that would have to be used for the knife or spike to pierce the sample armor being tested.

The studies that were conducted by the NIJ used a variety of stabbing techniques that a male would use. The degree of force used in the attack was measured according to the protective level assigned to each classification of armor.

While all classifications and protection levels of body armor offer bodily protection from attacks with knives or improvised spiked weapons, there is no type of correctional armor that can protect the wearer 100% of the time against someone trying to stab or slash them.

The NIJ protection levels are very detailed in that they estimate the depth of penetration that would likely lead to internal injuries, while ensuring users that there is a sufficient margin of safety designed into that particular body armor.

Generally speaking, correctional body armor at Level 1 is designed to protect against 85% of possible levels of force encountered. Level 2 protection is designed to protect against 90% of incidents, and body armor at Level 3 is made to protect against 96%.

Lastly, when choosing a protective body armor vest it is important to make sure it measures up to standard it represents and complies with NIJ Standard 0115.00 of the NIJ Compliance Testing Program. You should check to verify that the model you intend to purchase is listed on the Stab Armor Compliant Product List.

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