D.C. politician requests inquiry into treatment of Hazelton inmates

KINGWOOD — A congresswoman representing the District of Columbia has requested an investigation of treatment of inmates at the federal prison in Hazelton.

Congresswoman Eleanor Homes Norton, D.-D.C., wrote U.S. Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horwitz this week. She raises some of the same staff questions as correctional officers at the prisons, who say they are understaffed.

Neither the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) nor Local 420 of the Federation of Government Employees replied to requests for comment time for this report.

BOP facilities at Hazelton include a high-security federal prison with minimum-security satellite camp, a medium-security federal correctional institution and a female facility.

In addition to those convicted of federal crimes, D.C. code felons are housed by BOP at Hazelton.

In her letter, Norton writes, “Two inmates from the District of Columbia have died at Hazelton during violent altercations during this past year alone, and serious allegations have been raised concerning brutal treatment of inmates housed in the Special Housing Unit.”

She identified the dead men as Ian Thorne, who was killed April 2 in an fight with another inmate in which homemade weapons were used, and Demario Porter, killed on Sept. 17 in another altercation with a fellow inmate.

Thorne was serving 20 years for conspiracy to commit murder. Porter was serving 26 months for a parole violation.

The congresswoman also said the family of a constituent told her, “that he had been, in their words, ‘beaten badly by … prison guards to the point they fractured his ribs.’ His family also reports that he told them that three weeks prior to this incident, guards went to his cell three times, taunted him and eventually handcuffed and beat him.”

Other incidents are also alleged to have occurred, including one in which the injured inmate was left chained and alone in his cell for 17 hours, without medical attention.

“His family further claims that his food arrives with pubic hairs, his property has been stolen and he is taunted to elicit a reaction, allowing BOP guards to beat him with alleged justification,” Norton wrote.

And, she wrote, “Another of my constituents at Hazelton claims he was attacked by guards and left in solitary confinement for several days, where he was unable to receive medical attention. He has indicated that the chain wrapped around his stomach made it difficult for him to breathe.”

Norton said inmates say some staff at Hazelton are “performing duties outside the scope of their work, which may account for some of these issues.”

There is evidence federal employees at Hazelton, “have likely received inadequate training, are under-supported, and are being compelled to perform duties outside the scope of their positions and their training, which is leading to these horrific and entirely unacceptable outcomes.”

Correctional officers told The Dominion Post earlier this year the staffing complement for the complex was lowered from 880 to 796, of which only 735 were filled at the time. BOP has used “augmentation,” which is the practice of using prison employees who are not correctional officers to fill correctional officers’ jobs.

The Bureau previously said it is eliminating several thousand vacant positions to “right size” the system.

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