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Protesters fight feds on plan to make FCC Hazelton a COVID-19 quarantine facility

HAZELTON — West Virginians from the governor to the state’s federal representatives and local residents are asking the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to reconsider its decision to use FCC Hazelton as a quarantine location for inmates.

As of Monday afternoon, nearly 3,000 people had signed a petition on, asking that prisoners not be brought to FCC Hazelton and FCI Gilmer because they could carry the coronavirus to prisons now free of it. Workers, in turn, could carry the virus into the community, opponents say.

Ashley Jenkins, who signed the petition, wrote in the comments, “Lives in West Virginia are not less important than lives in other places. Please do not jeopardize the lives of loyal employees and whole rural communities that lack the resources for medical care that are found in more urban areas!”

On Sunday, people also gathered along Interstate 68 at the Hazelton Exit to protest the plan.

The proposal was first brought to the public’s attention by Local 420 of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents workers at Hazelton. The local says the prisoners will come from Washington, D.C., jails, where COVID-19 has been a problem. The union says more than 80 confirmed cases are in D.C. jails.

A Bureau spokesman said, “While inmate movement is being limited as much as possible, the BOP is still required to accept inmates awaiting trial remanded to our custody. We must also accept newly convicted inmates for service of their sentence.
U.S. Marshals are “screening inmates prior to moving them to us and inmates wear cloth face coverings during transport. If an inmate is symptomatic, we will not accept them.”

New inmates will be screened, their temperatures checked daily and, if one shows virus symptoms, placed in a single cell in an isolation unit and monitored and managed consistent with CDC guidelines, the spokesman said.

Elected officials object

“While I surely understand the need to transfer prisoners from time to time, now — in the midst of this pandemic — seems unwise and unnecessary,” Justice said.

He noted West Virginia has taken “a great many measures” to keep the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths low.

Forcing prison employees to congregate with “potentially infected” people from areas where the virus is more common is “an unnecessary and unreasonable risk” to the community, Justice said.

On Saturday Manchin, D-W.Va., asked the Bureau to reconsider using Hazelton and FCI Gilmer for quarantine.

“I am deeply troubled by plans the Bureau of Prisons are considering to transport new inmates from COVID-19 hotspot regions of the country to West Virginia for quarantine,” Manchin said. “This move puts our already vulnerable population and our correctional officers and their families at greater risk of exposure to COVID-19.”

Capito, R-W.Va., said, “I have become increasingly concerned for the health and safety of the men and women at FCI Hazelton and FCI Gilmer as well as their families and surrounding community. We have been extremely fortunate that we have not had a coronavirus outbreak in either of these facilities, and we cannot risk one now.”

McKinley, R-W.Va., said, “This is an irresponsible decision that will put the health of the inmates and staff at Hazelton at risk. I vehemently oppose this plan and urge you to reconsider.”

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