Preston County News and Journal: Hazelton union rallies in favor of more staffing

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Washington, November 20, 2018 | comments
Members of the American Federation of Government Employees union from as far away as Florida rallied Friday in Bruceton Mills to bring awareness to what they say have become dangerously low staffing levels at the federal prison in Hazelton and other penitentiaries nationwide. The Hazelton complex has been in the national spotlight since the Oct. 30 murder of convicted mobster James “Whitey” Bulger within hours of his transfer to the maximum-security portion of the facility. U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., joined the employees gathered at the Interstate 68/W.Va. 26 interchange to show his support and explain his ongoing effort to get more staffing at the prison.
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Members of the American Federation of Government Employees union from as far away as Florida rallied Friday in Bruceton Mills to bring awareness to what they say have become dangerously low staffing levels at the federal prison in Hazelton and other penitentiaries nationwide.

The Hazelton complex has been in the national spotlight since the Oct. 30 murder of convicted mobster James “Whitey” Bulger within hours of his transfer to the maximum-security portion of the facility.

U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., joined the employees gathered at the Interstate 68/W.Va. 26 interchange to show his support and explain his ongoing effort to get more staffing at the prison.

 “We are not backing off, and I am not backing down from this fight,” McKinley said. “You deserve safety. You and your families need to know that you are going to come home. This is not Republican or Democrat; this is just common sense.”

Dan Doyle, national vice president for the union’s District 4, said prison staffing is a top issue for the organization.

“The national office of the AFGE is extremely concerned about this problem, both here and nationally,” Doyle said. “It is one of the most dangerous places to work because of the arbitrary reduction of staff members.”

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McKinley shared the concern over the staffing issue.

“This has been an ongoing fight with the federal Bureau of Prisons,” McKinley said. “We have a staffing problem here, and it is showing up in reports. We have one of the highest incident reporting on a per-capita basis.”

McKinley said there could be another 135 people at the institution as correctional officers, but the administration is choosing to use other people to work with the inmates instead of the guards.

“Correctional officers are specifically trained and understand the protocol,” McKinley said. “For them to say, ‘We will take a secretary, a cook, a receptionist to go in and work with inmates’ is not good. Yes, it may save money, but in the long run, it puts more people at risk, and I don’t think we should be doing it.

“Let’s do what we are supposed to be doing ... and get the right number of correctional officers and get this under control.”

According to McKinley, Congress has put an additional $105 million in the budget for federal correctional officers.

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