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Hazelton staff member attacked by inmate

BRUCETON MILLS — Inmates at United States Penitentiary Hazelton are in lockdown after a staff member was physically assaulted by an inmate Tuesday.

“The violence has increased at Hazelton over the last few months,” said American Federation of Government Employees Local 420 President Justin Tarovisky. “The local and our members, we’re not going to tolerate inmates putting their hands on our staff and assaulting our staff. … It goes back into you know, our understaffing.”

The attack happened about 12:45 p.m., according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. One staff member was taken to the hospital for treatment and released. Tarovisky told The Dominion Post the assault happened in one of the housing units and the victim was OK.

Inmates were placed on lockdown following the attack, Tarovisky said. The union recommends a slow methodical shakedown – searching inmates cells – before removing the lockdown. On Thursday, Tarovisky said the inmates would be on lockdown for awhile and there were plans to do shakedowns.

Staffing, especially in a prison known for violence like Hazelton, is critical, Tarovisky said. He spoke with Sen. Joe Manchin’s chief of staff about the incident and staffing issues Thursday morning.

Officers are consistently being mandated – forced to work a double shift – because of a lack of personnel, Tarovisky said. 

“We had probably over 25 mandates just for one shift a couple of days ago,” he said.

Local 420 Vice President Kevin Seifert said the mandates are constant. It’s not a matter of if an officer will be mandated, but when, and then trying to plan your life around it, he said. He explained shifts are 8 hours, so getting mandated means working 16 hours.

One of the hardest parts of the mandates, Seifert said, is how it affects spouses and families, who have to rearrange their work schedules and plans.

The BOP told The Dominion Post it “is committed to ensuring appropriate staffing levels to maintain the safety and security of staff, inmates, and the institution.” It said staffing levels at Hazelton were “adequate to meet our mission.”

“Despite challenges posed by the pandemic, we have managed our staffing levels to maintain the safety and security of our staff and inmates, while providing appropriate opportunities for inmates to enhance their successful reentry into the community upon release,” Donald Murphy, of the Office of Public Afffairs, Information, Policy and Public Affairs Division of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said in a statement.

Seifert said that is untrue.

“If you were to ask them as a reporter or Congress were to ask them say, what’s your staffing numbers, they’ll say, ‘oh, we’re at 97% 96% or 92%,’ ” Seifert said.

However, Seifert said that’s not completely honest – it leaves out officers who are injured, on military duty, under investigation due to inmate allegations, or tasked with other duties.

“Whenever they’ll tell you we’re fully staffed, they’re lying and they know it,” Seifert said.

Tarovisky said the BOP needs to do whatever it has to, to increase staffing at Hazelton. He suggested bonuses to bring in people from outside the region.

“There’s a lot of violence at Hazleton and we’re trying to curtail that violence. And one way of doing it is making sure we’re completely staffed,” Tarovisky said. “And if that has to do with incentives for our officers to keep them here and they get other officers from, you know, recruit from outside of the region.” 

He said the union needs help from the BOP to do that and it needs to be done as soon as possible.

According to Murphy, efforts are being made to hire more officers.

The BOP is actively seeking to fill vacant positions using “a breadth of employment incentives to attract and retain staff,” his statement reads. “Furthermore, the BOP offers various employment incentives to remain competitive with private and federal entities. … We have an updated and targeted approach towards branding and marketing in order to attract quality candidates to our organization.  Recruitment efforts include, but are not limited to, Google Ad campaigns; Facebook, LinkedIn, and Indeed Ads and job postings; recruitment videos on YouTube, billboard advertisements, and virtual recruitment events, as well as recruitment through various professional organizations, to include the military.”  

Starting in March 2021, the BOP began a hiring initiative which resulted in 2,088 new BOP employees, according to the statement.

The Dominion Post was not provided with information on how many of those employees were for Hazelton.

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