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Hazelton prison has first COVID-19 inmate death

Warden explains pandemic procedures; efforts to hire staff

KINGWOOD – A few days after the federal prison complex at Hazelton reported its first inmate death from COVID-19, Preston County officials participated in an online meeting with the warden.

On Monday, Warden Rich Hudgins explained COVID procedures for the complex, which includes a high-security U.S. penitentiary, secure women’s facility, medium-security Federal Correctional Institution and low-security camp.

He also talked about continued efforts to hire staff to ease a shortage of correctional officers and encouraged people to apply for the openings.

The meeting was set up prior to news of the inmate’s death, to replace in-person meetings normally held with the warden.

 According to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP), George Adams, 68, an inmate at FCI Hazelton who had long-term pre-existing medical conditions, tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 13 and was placed in medical isolation.  On Jan. 18, he was transported to a local hospital “for altered medical status and hypoxia.” On Jan. 22, he died.

Adams was sentenced to life in prison by the District of Columbia Superior Court for felony murder while armed, assault with a dangerous weapon, possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, carrying a pistol without a license and robbery. He had been at Hazelton since May 4, 2017.

Hudgins became the warden at Hazelton Dec. 6. He has worked 31 years for the Bureau of Prisons.

County Health Officer Dr. Fred Conley asked how new arrivals are screened for COVID. The warden said inmates to be transferred from other BOP facilities are administered a rapid result test and quarantined for 14 days. They are tested again before being brought to Hazelton.

On arrival, Hazelton staff does another rapid test and again quarantine the inmates for 14 days, then tests them again. When the tests are negative, they are placed in the general population.

Non-BOP inmates brought by the U.S. Marshals through county jails or as new detainees, for example, may or may not have been tested under the Marshals’ protocol. On arrival, Hazelton treats them as if all are positive and staff wears full PPE while screening the new inmates and placing them into 14-day quarantine.

“Currently today I have 36 inmates that test positive,” Hudgins said. Of those, 22 are the FCI, 13 at the penitentiary and one at the female facility.

“The trending is going way down on our staff side,” the warden noted.

From Jan. 3-9, 30 new cases were reported among staff. From Jan. 10-16, it was 23 cases, and Jan. 17-24 just nine cases, Hudgins said.

The second round of Pfizer vaccine will be administered to 327 staff – more than 35% of staff — and 333 inmates – 10% of the total population — this week. Hazelton was given 660 doses and not all staff chose to get it, so the rest was given to inmates. They have not been told when they will receive more vaccine, Hudgins said, though they have heard rumors it could be within 30 days.

“A lot of people have had a wait and see attitude. They didn’t want to be the first ones to take it,” Hudgins said.

Modified operations are still in effect, Hudgins said, including allowing a limited number of masked inmates out at a time for hygiene and to place telephone calls.


The Dominion Post asked Hudgins if Hazelton has been able to add staff. Previously it was reported that mandatory overtime for officers and augmentation reassignment of non-officer staff was “through the roof,” according to Local 420 of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents workers at Hazelton.

Augmentation is when prison employees who are not normally correctional officers are called to fulfill an officer’s duties. Though they receive the same basic training, full-time officers say it’s dangerous for the workers and inmates, because the augmented staff isn’t familiar with the inmates, the areas and the equipment.

“All staff are correctional officers first,” Hudgins said, though they may not be assigned full-time as correctional officers.

Hudgins said Monday there still is some over time and staff is still being augmented. But seven new officers will start Feb. 1, and there were 16 new officers in the last training class, in December.

“That’s one of our main priorities to solve this overtime, it’s a manpower equation. So the more staff that we can recruit, the more correctional officers we can hire, it will reduce the overtime and the augmentation,” the warden said.

There are 807 positions at the Hazelton complex and it is 97% staffed, Hudgins said. Of those vacancies 24 are in correctional services, Hudgins said.

He encouraged people to go to to apply for a federal position.

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