Corrections officer union protests transfer of inmates into W.Va.

The federal Bureau of Prisons recently chose FCI Gilmer and FCI Hazelton as quarantine sites for out-of-state inmates


By Joe Smith
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Local federal correctional officers plan to protest today to voice disagreement with the Federal Bureau of Prisons decision to transfer inmates from prisons heavily infected with COVID-19 to facilities in West Virginia, including FCC Hazelton in Preston County.

The protest will be led by leaders and members of The American Federation of Government Employees Local 420 and will take place from 2-5 p.m. today off Interstate 68, Exit 7 in Morgantown. The union asks that those planning to attend the rally to wear face coverings and respect recommended social distancing guidelines.

Members of a union representing federal correctional officers gathered Saturday to protest a transfer of out-of-state inmates to facilities in West Virginia.
Members of a union representing federal correctional officers gathered Saturday to protest a transfer of out-of-state inmates to facilities in West Virginia. (Photo/American Federation of Government Employees Local 420)

“We just want to get the word out to the public, we’ve had a lot of members of the public that want to stand with us and get the message to the agency the DOJ and leaders that we won’t tolerate this,” said Rick Heldreth, president of the AFGE Local 420.

Despite concerns and objections from numerous officials at the local and state level, 124 inmates were transported Tuesday to the Federal Correctional Institution at Gilmer County in Glenville, Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Sue Allison said.

The plan was announced within the past week as part of a plan to relieve overcrowding. Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal said 10 sites across the country, including Gilmer and Hazleton, with available bed space were identified to house the new inmates, and that inmates who don’t test positive for the virus after the quarantine will then be transported to their designated prisons.

Heldreth said the state’s prisons obeyed the guidance and direction from Gov. Jim Justice as well as the CDC, and so far, that has resulted in no cases of the virus being confirmed inside FCI Hazelton. He’s concerned the decision to move prisoners into a prison where inmates are so far healthy could cause an outbreak, which was a motivating factor behind the protest.

“Our health isn’t something we want to play games with or take chances with. We’ve yet to hear any valid reason for moving these inmates from infected areas to here. It makes no sense, it’s not worth our health and safety,” Heldreth said.

With almost 1,000 employees across three states working at the prison — which sits less than 10 miles from both the Pennsylvania and Maryland state borders — there are plenty of worries the decision may bring a significant of an outbreak and community spread to a sizable population.

“Everything the citizens have done, everything the small businesses have done, everything, and just throws it down the tubes because there could be a breach,” Preston County Commissioner Samantha Stone said earlier this week.

“There are over 800 employees at Hazelton that have to go home to their families. Although they’re taking every precaution necessary, there still could be that chance.”

“We live all throughout the communities, Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. We go to church with everyone, we shop with everyone, we’re very active members of our communities and we don’t to take this out to anyone,” Heldreth said.

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©2020 the Times West Virginian (Fairmont, W. Va.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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