Bureau of Prisons responds to inmate COVID-19 transfer plan

HAZELTON, W.Va. —  The Federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed to MetroNews Sunday that both FCI Hazelton and FCI Gilmer are being operated as quarantine sites.

The agency responded with the statement after Gov. Justice and members of the state’s congressional delegation spoke out against a plan to bring some COVID-19 inmates into the Mountain State.

BOP spokesperson Sue Allison said Hazelton and Gilmer are two of 10 sites across the country to house new federal prison inmates for a 14-day quarantine period before they are moved into the main BOP population.

“When new inmates come into our system, they must be quarantined for 14-days to ensure they remain asymptomatic before being introduced into the main population,” Allison said. “These new inmates are normally housed at detention centers and at other key locations throughout the country.  In order to relieve population pressures at detention centers and other key locations throughout the country, we identified 10 sites that will house inmates for the purpose of quarantining them until they are medically cleared to be moved to their designated institution.  The institutions designated as quarantine sites, like other BOP facilities, have PPE and all needed sanitation supplies on hand, have available bed space and are adequately staffed to handle these inmates.”

Before the inmates get to Hazelton and Gilmer they will be properly screened and transferred by the U.S. Marshal Service. Inmates are wearing cloth masks during the transport, Allison said.

“All newly admitted inmates coming into the BOP are screened and temperature checked by employees wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), to include surgical masks, face shields/goggles, gloves, and gowns in accordance with CDC guidance,” she said.

Justice sent a letter to the agency Friday asking that COVID-19 inmates not be transferred to West Virginia.

Justice wrote the move seemed “unwise and unnecessary.”

American Federation of Government Employees Local 420 President Rick Heldreth said currently the Hazelton prison has had no positive cases.

“I was originally advised that the DC jails were overcrowded, so we were going to have to accept 200 to 300 inmates,” Heldreth said. “Then I found out yesterday (Thursday) it’s not an overcrowding issue, they’re inundated with COVID cases. Now, they want to ship their problem to us.”

Heldreth said they have been following CDC guidelines at Hazelton, using masks and PPE in order to keep staff and they have had no COVID-19 infections.

“We’ve tried to do everything we could to stay ahead of CDC guidelines, just use commonsense and it’s worked,” Heldreth said. ” Now, this just throws grenade in the middle of everything.”

U.S. Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito issued statements Saturday expressing concern. Manchin sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr asking for the plans to be abandoned.

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