Union workers at W.Va. prison worried about staff cuts

The concerns come after the Bureau of Prisons said it is, “currently eliminating several thousand authorized positions that are currently vacant"


By Kathy Plum
The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.

HAZELTON, W.Va. — Union employees at the federal facilities in Hazelton are concerned about staff reductions at the prisons.

Richard Heldreth, president of Local 420 of the American Federation of Government Employees, said workers were told 127 positions would be cut at Hazelton in the president’s proposed budget.

“It’s 6,000 positions nationwide,” Heldreth said, adding that all types of positions will be impacted.

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) said it is, “currently eliminating several thousand authorized positions that are currently vacant. These positions have been identified by the Department of Justice and Congress to be eliminated as part of an effort to ‘rightsize’ the BOP authorized staffing levels in light of the significant decrease in the inmate population we experienced over the last four years.”

Heldreth said there are 880 positions at Hazelton, and about 400 of those are correctional officers.

The Bureau said, “The elimination of these positions will not result in any staff members being displaced or any reduction in force, and the BOP does not expect this to impact institutional operations or its overall ability to maintain a safe environment for inmates and staff. Likewise, we believe that reducing authorized positions will not have a negative impact on public safety.”

It implied additional cuts are possible, saying, “The FY 2018 budget has not yet been enacted. To the extent the FY 2018 budget calls for the elimination of additional positions, the BOP will work with [Department of Justice] to effect such changes.”

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons has four facilities at Hazelton: A high-security prison with minimum-security satellite camp, a medium-security federal correctional institution and a secure female facility.

According to the Bureau, 3,437 inmates are incarcerated at the four facilities. Of those, 1,357 are in the high-security prison.

“There’s a lot of rumors going around,” about plans to use more private sector contractors in corrections, Heldreth said.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he is, “very concerned about these possible cuts to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he is looking into this situation and will do everything he can to make sure all Bureau of Prison facilities in West Virginia receive the funding they need to operate safely.”

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said in a statement that, “Any cuts to the number of correctional officers is of great concern to me. We have seen at the federal, state and local levels the increasing need for correctional officers. This is a safety issue, and I will continue to advocate for the funds required to ensure the safest possible environments.”

A spokesman for Congressman David McKin-ley, R-W.Va., said the proposal to cut salaries was in the original budget sent to the House, but the bill McKinley voted for, which passed the House, actually proposes increasing sal-aries for BOP prison system salaries by $61,448,000. The Senate has yet to act on the bill.

“(The cuts weren’t) something there was an appetite for in the House,” the spokesman said, noting McKinley supports correctional employees.

Follow The Dominion Post on Twitter @DominionPostWV. Email Kathy Plum: kplum@dominionpost.com.

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©2018 The Dominion Post (Morgantown, W.Va.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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