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McKinley hopeful BOP committed to increasing staff at Hazelton prison

MORGANTOWN — Increasing the staff size at USP Hazelton has been highlighted for months following a violent 2018 at the prison, which included the high-profile murder of notorious gangster James “Whitey” Bolger.

Congressman David McKinley, R-W.Va., met with Bureau of Prisons Acting Director Hugh Hurwitz last week to discuss inadequate staffing levels, resulting in a commitment to additonal recruiting at Hazelton.

Richard Heldreth, a corrections officer and President of AFGE Local 420, praised the news.

“We’re just glad that they’re taking the steps — the job fairs and everything,” Heldreth told MetroNews affiliate WAJR-AM in Morgantown. “We’re hopeful in the future that this is going to address our understaffing problems. We’re grateful for Congressman McKinley for meeting with the director and putting their heads together to help us look for solutions.”

In a letter to Hurwitz dated March 12, McKinley also acknowledged that new leadership at Hazelton needed to “commit to working with us to promote a safe environment for staff and inmates within the complex.” The current warden will retire effective March 31.

Heldreth said the staff is short about 50 officers. In January 2018, the BOP announced the elimination of 6,000 positions nationwide and 1,800 correctional officers with plans to eliminate another 1,000 positions. 65 custody staff positions were eliminated, according to reporting by The Dominion Post.

“The ceiling that we have now is already reduced from what it was two years ago,” he said. “So we’d like to see us at 100 percent. The agency is working with us, and they’re committed to getting us to that 100 percent.”

Hazelton will host a job fair April 4 at the training complex at the federal facility in hopes of recruiting new officers.

“The agency is actively recruiting trying to get them,” Heldreth said. “The agency just approved 10 percent recruitment bonus for new correctional officers in hopes to get staff here.”

The fair will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 4 as an open house for applicants interested in a career as a correctional officer. Heldreth highly recommended the career, saying he felt fulfilled knowing he was providing a service “for the American people.”

“We’re well-trained,” Heldreth said. “The staff that are here do an excellent job. We just need more of them.”