AG Barr answers federal prison staffing questions in front of Senate committee

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — During a second consecutive day of testimony Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General William Barr addressed questions regarding staffing shortages inside the Bureau of Prisons.

U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV, pressed the issue following mounting concerns and complaints centering around the safety of USP Hazelton in Preston County.

“We’ve had complaints from staffing that there is staffing shortages, that it’s not safe for our correctional officers, they’re being asked to perform different duties than maybe they were originally assigned for,” Capito said.

Barr addressed a number of issues surrounding prison staffing, but said the bottom line is clear.

“I think this is an area where we have stumbled,” he said.

Staffing at USP Hazelton, for example, has been cut in recent years, but even the new upper level limits are not being met. In March, Richard Heldreth, a corrections officer at Hazelton and President of AFGE Local 420, said the prison is short about 50 officers.

“The way it works in the Bureau of Prisons,” Barr explained, “if a person at this level leaves, and the next person moves up and they don’t start the process of hiring a new person until sort of everyone has taken a new chair. Then they go out and they take months and months and months to get that new person on board.”

Barr continued: “That makes no sense, because every year we lose 2,600 of these correctional officers. My view is: we just have to turn on the spigot and keep this new entry level people coming in at a rate where we are going to be able to get up to and maintain are enacted level.”

The Bureau of Prisons is “short” between 4,000 and 5,000 employees, Barr said during his testimony.

“A part of that overall number may be because of the hiring freeze, which I lefted (Tuesday),” he said. “But those slots were really in the regional and the headquarters. The shortages out in the prison facilities themselves was not the freeze.”

Last week, Hazelton hosted a job fair. MetroNews reached out to Heldreth Wednesday afternoon for additional details on the fair’s results.

No response has yet been offered.

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