Bureau of Prisons review team tours Hazelton prisons this week

COs expressed concerns about understaffing, violence and drug issues to members of the review team


By Kathy Plum
The Dominion Post

HAZELTON, W.Va. — A review team from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons is at the Hazelton prison complex this week.

The team was on site Wednesday, one day after the latest incidence of violence by inmates against correctional officers. Two officers were injured at FCI Hazelton Tuesday while trying to subdue an inmate who appeared to be using controlled substances, according to the employees’ union. Three inmates have been murdered by other inmates, during the year.

Richard Heldreth, president of local 420 of the American Federation of Government Employees, said Wednesday that he expected to talk with the team during the day. He shared his concerns about staffing levels at the facility.

“There’s just a team of agency officials here. I’m not sure what all they’re looking at,” Heldreth said. “They’re just reviewing operations, I think.”

Teams may do inspections, “on a scheduled basis and then also when there’s lot of incidents like we’ve had recently,” Heldreth said.

The team talked with workers for a couple hours, he said. Heldreth and others, “expressed our concerns about staff and violence and the drug stuff. So we’ll see where it goes.”

A different review team was at Hazelton to do an assessment right after gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was killed within hours of arriving at USP Hazelton on Oct. 30.

“I guess it’s significant to have another team here this quickly,” Heldreth said.

The union has sought to throw the spotlight on the number of unfilled and reduced staff positions at the complex. Hazelton includes a penitentiary, medium-security men’s prison, low-security camp and a women’s prison.

In January the Bureau of Prisons announced the elimination of 6,000 positions nationwide, including 1,800 correctional officers. There are plans to eliminate another 1,000 positions as early as next year, according to one source.

At Hazelton, more than 80 positions were eliminated, 65 of which were custody staff positions. In addition, Hazelton has an additional 30-plus vacant custody staff positions.

Congressman David McKinley, R-W.Va., has met with prison employees and worked with the Bureau of Prisons on staffing.

In a statement released Wednesday, he said that, “The latest incident at Hazelton is just the latest reminder of the dangerous situation at the prison, which is being made worse by a staffing shortage. Inadequate staffing puts the safety of both our corrections officers and inmates at risk, as we’ve seen repeatedly over the past year. We urge the Bureau of Prisons to take immediate action to address this problem and put safety first.”

The local public information officer referred all questions to the Bureau of Prisons public affairs office in Washington, D.C., which has not yet responded to questions submitted by The Dominion Post.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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