At prisons that house some of the most dangerous ISIS and al-Qaeda terrorists, federal correction officers have to train for the worst. And so it is at New Jersey's Fort Dix that hundreds of U.S. Bureau of Prisons personnel trained around the clock for a full week last month.
They fully immersed themselves in role-play scenarios ranging from prison uprisings by inmates to full-on assault by terrorists outside the prison attempting to free ones inside.
“We’re ready if something happens. It is like soldiers preparing for war. We are staff members preparing for a crisis situation,” said Michael Carroll, spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons.
NBC cameras were given rare access to the BOP exercises last month. In one terror drill, prison emergency teams stepped up quickly. But the standoff lasted 36 hours as officers worked to clear building after building of the "terrorists" who'd fought their way in. Sounds of stun guns and smoke grenades and gunfire echoed as teams worked to gain control of the institution.
“We hope to never have to use this but we want to be prepared if we do have to,” said Kristie Breshears, another BOP spokeswoman.
Other training exercises included handling crime scenes and recovering evidence for an event inside an prison. And teams trained with breaching tools to break through prison doors or barricades should inmates throw up obstacles during a crisis. Officers reviewed their actions after each exercise.
The Bureau of Prisons houses nearly 200,000 inmates nationwide, including terrorists like Zacarious Moussaoui and Najibullah Zazi, who spent time in New York jails, along with cop killer Ronell Wilson and Bernie Madoff.
Officers have been attacked in these prisons, like at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan, when bin Laden henchman Momdou Salim attacked Louis Pepe, causing him to lose sight in one eye and suffer brain damage. In Pennsylvania, officer Eric Williams was killed in a stabbing ambush by an inmate. And the man accused of carrying out the recent bombings in Chelsea and New Jersey, as well as notorious Mexican drug king pin “El Chapo,” could soon be sent to federal jails in New York.
Despite the high-profile violent attacks, officials point out that guarding inmates and offering rehabilitation and education service to many inmates is the norm. The BOP claims a 34 percent rate of recidivisim among the federal inmate population, a rate far below most state systems.
“Whether it is GED, educational programs, trade, skill sets," those are more part of the “prison routine," said MCC spokesman Lee Plourde.
But as the training at Fort Dix shows, that daily routine also has serious daily risks.