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Preston officials say Bureau of Prisons will test inmates before transferring them to USP Hazelton

KINGWOOD — The U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) will begin testing all inmates before they are transferred to another facility, Preston County officials were told Friday.

“They basically gave us the answer we were wanting. Now it’s the process to see if they follow up on what they said,” Preston County Health Department Director V.J. Davis said.

He, County Health Officer Dr. Fred Conley and Preston County Administrator Kathy Mace were on a conference call Friday with BOP and U.S. Marshals Service people.

“They’re supposed to implement that next week,” Davis said of the testing.

“They told us that their new procedure is going to be that all inmates before they are transferred somewhere will be tested for COVID. And if they test positive, they will not leave the facility they are at,” Davis said.

The call was set up by U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s office after a fourth prisoner brought in as many weeks to USP Hazelton tested positive for COVID-19.

“We’ve been anxious to know about the U.S. Marshals bringing prisoners into Hazelton that were testing positive,” Mace said.

The federal officials said 95% of federal prisoners brought to Hazelton come from three holding facilities, one each in Oklahoma, Mississippi and Nevada.

The Oklahoma hub has been having a problem with COVID-19, Mace said.

“We were very, very encouraged by the call,” she said.

While nothing is 100% sure, “I just think we’re making a very positive step,” Mace said.

The most recent positive inmate was also the second positive inmate transferred from an Oklahoma holding facility that does not currently test inmates before the U.S. Marshals Service moves them, according to Richard Heldreth, president of Local 420 of the American Federation of Government Employees.

The local represents workers at Hazelton.

The union says the problem lies with the Marshals Service, that it does not follow Bureau protocols for testing inmates before transferring them. This could lead to virus spread throughout the community, the members say.

Davis said the way he sees it now is, “The U.S. Marshals, their job is to go pick up the inmate and transfer the inmate to a facility. So they’re the transport mechanism. They don’t necessarily control the testing aspect of it.”

The breakdown, Davis said, appeared to be in the prisoners being taken from one facility to the one where they were intended to stay for a while, with no testing.

“So the Bureau of Prisons has looked at its entire procedure. With them doing that, that should eliminate the problem of the U.S. Marshals bringing people who haven’t been tested,” Davis said. “It’s kind of up to the facility those prisoners are at to see that those prisoners are tested,” and contact the Marshals if the inmate tests positive.

Davis said he and Conley will continue to monitor the situation.