HAZELTON, W.Va. — The high-security U.S. Penitentiary at Hazelton is on lockdown Friday after an incident this morning in which an inmate assaulted multiple staff.

According to Richard Heldreth, president of local 420 of the American Federation of Government Employees, four staff members received minor injuries during the incident.

“The violent and understaffed conditions at the FCC have not improved in the past few months. While the [Bureau of Prisons] has hired a handful of officers in the past two months, this does not even begin to make a dent in the situation, especially when you factor in the staff that we have lost during the same time frame,” Heldreth said.

Last year three inmates were killed at the prison, including infamous gangster James “Whitey” Bulger. Several correctional officers were injured in other incidents of inmate violence. Workers staged an informational picket to call attention to staff cutbacks at the federal facilities, and a federal review team visited Hazelton in November.

Now workers are contending not only with low staffing levels and inmate violence but with the federal shutdown.

“The staff continue to work at Hazelton under the government shutdown,” Heldreth noted. “While we are currently not being paid, the inmates that work at the facility will be receiving their pay on time for the work that they do. This shutdown has been devastating for staff morale. Many staff live check-to-check, and will be experiencing immediate financial hardship if and when our next pay does not come. Most staff that I have talked to had curtailed their holiday plans and spending in preparation for what we are facing.”

He pointed out that not only Hazelton workers but also those at other federal prisons in West Virginia — Morgantown, Gilmer, Alderson, Beckley and McDowell — are in the same situation.

“This equates to thousands of West Virginians that will be going without pay soon and affecting the local economy. Not to mention the staff from other federal agencies within the state that are suffering the same,” Heldreth said.

A request for comment from Hazelton’s spokesman was answered with an email saying, “Due to the partial government shutdown, responses to inquiries will be delayed. We appreciate your patience during this time.”

Kathy Plum, The Dominion Post