Out-of-state inmate transfers to W.Va. federal prisons stopped

Sen. Joe Manchin received assurances from Attorney General William Barr that no more new, out-of-state inmates will be transferred to FCI Gilmer or FCC Hazelton


By Kathy Plum
The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — No more new, out-of-state inmates will be transferred to federal prisons in West Virginia during the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., made the announcement Friday. The senator said he received assurances from U.S. Attorney General William Barr that no more new, out-of-state inmates will be transferred to FCI Gilmer or FCC Hazelton during the pandemic.

The Bureau promised inmates would be screened for the coronavirus before arrival.
The Bureau promised inmates would be screened for the coronavirus before arrival. (Photo/Federal Bureau of Prisons)

“Many of these inmates were being transferred from COVID-19 hotspots across the country, putting the safety of our brave correctional officers and their families, citizens and inmates at risk,” Manchin said in a press release. “I am pleased that AG Barr has heard our concerns and will be making changes that will help FCC Hazelton and FCI Gilmer slow the spread of COVID-19 in their facilities.”

Earlier the federal Bureau of Prisons said the two West Virginia prisons were among 10 in the nation selected to serve as quarantine sites for new inmates. The Bureau promised inmates would be screened for the coronavirus before arrival.

However, one prisoner brought to FCI Gilmer tested positive for the virus after his arrival there.

The union that represents prison workers, which first brought attention to the quarantine designation, protested bringing prisoners from COVID-19 hot spots to prisons with no cases and a state with a low incidence of the virus.

“This is an absolute victory for the safety of my staff, the inmates we are responsible for and the communities we live in. I cannot thank Sen. Manchin and AG Barr enough, as well as all of our leaders, representatives and members of the community that got involved and spoke out on this matter. Thank you,” Rick Heldreth, president of Local 420 of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents FCC Hazelton workers, said Friday.

Half the battle

But FCI Gilmer Local 0425 President Derek Crihfield said stopping transfers in is only half the battle.

Of the 124 inmates brought to Gilmer for quarantine, one was confirmed after arrival as having COVID-19. Four others are listed as “presumed positives” under CDC guidelines, Crihfield said.

They are listed as presumed because the county health department does not recognize positives from the Abbott ID NOW machines. The department waits on results from traditional swab tests that take longer, Crihfield said.

“What we’re running into,” he explained, “is we just identified our first one [May 1] and 10 days into it now we have basically five positive cases, but they’re still refusing to test the rest of the inmates, because they’re not symptomatic, and going ahead with transfer plans to transfer these guys to other institutions.”

There are more than enough supplies to test all the inmates, Crihfield said, but workers were told that under CDC guidelines the Bureau does not have to test inmates who aren’t exhibiting symptoms.

There’s a feeling among employees that, “We can’t ship them to another institution, just knowing that we’re passing the buck along,” Crihfield said.

So far no Gilmer employees have tested positive, Crihfield said. About 18 have been tested.

The news of no more transfers in came one day after Preston County officials, State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Congressman David McKinley, R-W.Va., said the Bureau had agreed to additional testing procedures.

Gov. Jim Justice also opposed bringing the inmates to West Virginia at this time.

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©2020 The Dominion Post (Morgantown, W.Va.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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