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Third USP Hazelton inmate transfer tests positive for COVID-19

BRUCETON MILLS — A third new inmate at USP Hazelton has tested positive for COVID-19, workers said Thursday.

“This time [the transfer came] from one of our own BOP facilities in Oklahoma. The inmate was not even tested or quarantined before being sent to us. This is nothing short of negligence,” said Richard Heldreth, president of Local 420 of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents workers at Hazelton.

West Virginia’s two U.S. Senators and First District Congressman, and prison workers, raised new concerns last month about inmate transfers. They argue it is wrong 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 U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) says it cannot refuse prisoners brought in by the Marshals Service. Workers say the Marshals Service doesn’t follow BOP protocols on transfers.

On Wednesday, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey accepted an invitation to meet with President Trump, U.S. Attorney General William Barr and other state attorneys general to discuss concerns about censorship on social media.

When fears of inmates with the virus being transferred to federal prisons in West Virginia arose in May, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., obtained Barr’s promise that no new out-of-state inmates would be transferred to the state during the COVID-19 crisis.

At that time, Morrisey talked by phone with Preston County Commissioners about the transfers and joined the call for rapid test machines to be put into the federal prisons in West Virginia.

When asked by the newspaper if he addressed the current situation with Barr, Curtis Johnson, press secretary for Morrisey, said Thursday “Our office is aware of the situation and is working with the Bureau of Prisons to understand how COVID-positive inmates could be allowed into Hazelton, despite the promises made and protocols put into place.”