BRUCETON MILLS — What employees at the federal prisons in Hazelton, Preston County, feared has come to pass.
On Tuesday, one of a group of prisoners brought to USP Hazelton by the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) tested positive for COVID-19, according to Richard Heldreth, president of Local 420 of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents workers at Hazelton.
“This is exactly what I was afraid was going to happen. What is most disgusting is the complete disregard that USMS has for the safety of our staff and our community,” Heldreth said.
“They knew this would happen, and they are still disregarding our agency COVID protocols. At this point they are basically intentionally infecting our facility with their negligent acts,” he said.
The U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) previously told the newspaper it cannot refuse prisoners brought to it by the Marshals Service.
Earlier this year, opposition by West Virginia’s state and federal elected representatives led up to U.S. Attorney General William Barr saying that no new out-of-state inmates would be transferred to West Virginia.
The officials and prison workers argue it is nonsensical to send untested federal prisoners or prisoners who have been in areas with a high infection rate to states like West Virginia that have a low infection rate.
The Bureau of Prisons has adopted protocols to test and quarantine new inmates. The workers say the U.S. Marshals Service ignores those protocols.
West Virginia’s senators and First District congressman are again involved.
“I am appalled to hear of these reports that U.S. Marshals transferred a COVID-19 positive inmate to Hazelton correctional facility and am calling on the Trump Administration to stop this reckless practice immediately,” U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Wednesday.
“It is completely irresponsible for the U.S. Marshals to transfer inmates into West Virginia facilities without proper testing and safety measures. Their reckless behavior creates additional risk of exposure for our brave correctional officers and their families, community members and inmates. If they are unable to transfer inmates safely, they should not be transferring them at all,” Manchin said.
He pledged to continue working with correctional officers “and pushing the U.S. Marshals and Justice Department to ensure every possible precaution is put in place to prevent additional spread of the virus.”
U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s office said it “continues to monitor this in conversations with both BOP and the Marshals.”
“I continue to support the concern of the workforce within our prisons and the corrections officers who fear that these differing standards put them and their surrounding community under undue risk for COVID-19,” Capito, R-W.Va., said Wednesday.
Congressman David McKinley, R-W.Va., said “Reports that prisoners transferred to USP Hazelton testing positive for COVID-19 is very concerning. The U.S. Marshal Service transferring prisoners without adequate testing and quarantine protocols has put the health and safety of inmates, correctional officers, their families and the entire surrounding community at risk.”
He also said he “will continue to work with the BOP and U.S. Marshal Service to ensure the safety of Hazelton and the surrounding community.”