Prison union opposes transfer plan of federal inmates because of COVID-19

Coronavirus

HAZLETON, W.Va. – The decision to transfer prisoners from the Washington D.C. federal system to U.S. Penitentiary Hazleton because of COVID-19 is not sitting well with the American Federation of Government Employees Local 420, which is the union of employees at the prison.

This is according to Local 420 President, Richard Heldreth, who said the current plan the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has put in place will transfer 200-300 inmates. Heldreth said they will be coming from a system that has a large number of cases, more than 80, and be putting inmates and employees at risk at Hazleton.

“We’ve kept Hazleton free from the virus up to this point by using common sense measures, following CDC guidelines and it seems very needless to take inmates from an area that’s heavily infected and move them into a situation like that, when it’s not needed,” Heldreth said.

The union president called the idea “ill-advised, dangerous and irresponsible” and said he wants the BOP to reconsider and stop the transfer of prisoners from happening.

The plan would bring only inmates who do not show any symptoms of COVID-19, however, many who have the virus are asymptomatic, don’t show any symptoms, so that could be dangerous, Heldreth said. The only assurance they’ve been given from the BOP, Hildreth said, is that prisoners will be monitored daily, through measures like temperature checks, to ensure that once they display symptoms they will be isolated, but that’s not good enough.

Heldreth said he has been in touch with the offices of state leaders, trying to make sure that the transfer does not happen. Governor Jim Justice has spoken on the matter, along with Senators Joe Manchin, Shelley Moore Capito, and Congressman David McKinley, all voicing their opposition to the plan, Heldreth said.

“All of the staff, that I know up there, are against this move, I’ve yet to run across anyone that’s OK with it,” Hildreth said.

USP Hazleton is located in Preston County, and the county’s Commission President, Samantha Stone, has also voiced her opposition to the plan. The transfer won’t only be to Hazleton but also to the Gilmer Federal Correctional Institution, in Gilmer County, West Virginia, and other federal prisons around the nation, Stone said.

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