— Story by Kathy Plum, The Dominion Post
HAZELTON, W.Va. — Two officers at FCI Hazelton were injured Tuesday after being assaulted by an inmate.
FCI Hazelton is a medium-security prison for men that is part of the federal prison complex in northern Preston County. Staffing levels at the facility have come under the microscope after three prisoners at USP Hazelton were murdered in the past year, including gangster “Whitey” Bulger, who was killed within hours of arriving.
Richard Heldreth, president of Local 420 of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents workers at Hazelton, made the assault public Tuesday afternoon.
Heldreth said in an email that the inmate was, “apparently under the influence of an unknown substance and the officers were attempting to restrain him when the inmates began fighting staff.”
Both officers received medical treatment at the facility and were sent home early, Heldreth said.
“Despite the seriousness of the incident, the warden refused to secure the facility, and continued running the prison as if nothing had happened,” Heldreth noted.
“This is just another example of the violence that is plaguing the Hazelton complex, caused by understaffing and the failure of the administration to properly respond to incidents like this,” Heldreth said.
On Nov. 16, the union did an informational picket at the Bruceton Mills exit of Interstate 68, to call public attention to staffing at the facilities. Since last year, staff at Hazelton has dropped from 880 to 796, with only about 720 of those positions filled, according to the union.
More than 30 of those unfilled positions are correctional officers. The federal Bureau of Prisons is using a policy called augmentation, calling on prison employees who are not correctional officers, to fill the void.
Heldreth previously said that, while the non-correctional officers do receive the same basic training as officers, “to put them in officer positions, it’s dangerous for them and everyone else because they’re not as familiar with the inmates, the areas, the equipment they’ve got to utilize.”
The Bureau of Prisons did not respond to a request for comment on the incident in time for this report.