Hazelton workers say inmates being moved without testing for COVID
KINGWOOD — Workers at federal prisons in Hazelton say the U.S. Marshals Service is ignoring Bureau of Prisons (BOP) protocols created to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Richard Heldreth, president of Local 420 of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents workers at Hazelton, said that new inmates are typically housed in regional and county facilities.
“Then without testing these inmates or quarantining them to ensure they are not infected, [Marshals] disperse them to federal prisons all over the country,” Heldreth said. The BOP has no control over this, “even though these actions endanger the health and safety of our communities, staff and inmates,” he said.
Heldreth said he knows at least four separate prisons in this region received COVID positive inmates from Marshal Service transfers within the past two weeks, “exposing thousands of staff and inmates and risking increased spread of the virus into their communities.”
Hazelton, McDowell and Alderson are scheduled to receive some of these inmates, Heldreth said.
He referred to earlier this year, when opposition led to U.S. Attorney General William Barr saying that no new out-of-state inmates would be transferred to West Virginia.
“We have fought hard to keep the COVID-19 pandemic from infesting the Hazelton complex, and the [BOP] has implemented some important safeguards to keep our prisons from becoming COVID hotspots. But it seems that USMS Director [Donald] Washington is willing to risk the health of our staff and community,” Heldreth said. “I do not know why the USMS refuses to implement common-sense safeguards under the pandemic and refuses to abide by Bureau of Prisons policy.”
On Monday, the BOP reported two staff members at FCI Hazelton testing positive for the virus and five recovered. At USP Hazelton, it shows no staff testing positive and 12 recovered. No inmates at either institution were listed as positive or recovered.
BOP & USMS responses
The U.S. Marshals Service did not respond to a request for comment in time for this report.
The BOP referred questions about the Marshals Service and its COVID protocols to the service.
Emery Nelson, spokesman for the BOP, said that “Inmate movement nationwide in general is significantly down from this time last year, and this is directly a result of steps we have taken as we have implemented our COVID-19 pandemic plan.”
He noted that “All institutions have areas set aside for quarantine and isolation. Inmates are treated at the institution unless medical staff determine they require hospitalization. All inmates are managed per CDC guidelines.”
However, Nelson said, the BOP is required by law to accept inmates awaiting trial remanded to its custody and newly convicted inmates.
- Effective March 26, all newly admitted inmates are screened and temperature checked by employees wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), to include surgical masks, face shields or goggles, gloves and gowns in accordance with CDC guidance.
- Effective June 19, all inmates entering or departing any BOP facility are tested for COVID-19 upon arrival and placed in quarantine. They are separated in an individual room or unit apart from inmates not in quarantine.
- If an inmate tests negative and is asymptomatic he or she will remain in quarantine and are observed for symptoms and signs of the illness during the incubation period, and must test negative again prior to being placed in the general population.
- If an inmate tests positive and/or is symptomatic for COVID-19, the inmate is placed in isolation until considered recovered by medical staff as determined by CDC guidelines.
- All inmates releasing or transferring from one BOP facility to another BOP facility or other agencies, or to the community, are placed in a test-in/out pre-release quarantine for a minimum of 14 days prior to their scheduled departure from the institution.
Following the 14-day quarantine, an inmate who tests negative and is asymptomatic is approved for transfer or release. If the inmate tests positive or becomes symptomatic, the inmate is placed in isolation and is not permitted to transfer until they are considered recovered by medical staff as determined by CDC guidelines.
If an inmate is in isolation on their release date, the institution notifies local health authorities in the location where the inmate is being released. Institution staff also coordinate with local health department authorities to minimize exposure with the public upon release.
Transportation that will minimize exposure is used, with an emphasis on transportation by family and friends, and inmates are supplied a cloth facial covering to wear.