Members of AFGE Local 420 working at Federal Correctional Complex Hazelton in West Virginia were joined by elected officials, community leaders, and AFGE members from across the nation as they gathered at the Interstate 68/W.Va. 26 interchange on Nov. 16 to protest severe understaffing at their facility and other federal prisons nationwide. So far this year, three prisoners have been murdered at Hazelton by other inmates.
Federal Correctional Complex Hazelton, which has been in the news recently due to the murder of a high-profile inmate, has faced severe understaffing the last few years, endangering workers and inmates inside the prison, and exposing the surrounding community to dangers. The Bureau of Prisons has been using support staff like secretaries and food service workers to guard inmates, following a policy called “augmentation” that’s raising safety questions and putting everyone at risk.
“We’re here to try and raise awareness about other staffing and some of the policies, such as augmentation, that are creating a dangerous environment,” said Richard Heldreth, president of Local 420. “We are constantly facing life-threating situations where we don’t have enough officers to patrol the prison, and as a result we’ve seen a massive uptick in contraband like weapons and drugs as well as an increase in attacks on inmates and officers. Any death that occurs here is a travesty, and unfortunately, the three we’ve seen this year could have been prevented if the administration had hired the officers we so desperately need.”
Joining the officers at the rally were Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia, concerned citizens, and members of the community. McKinley said BOP needs to get the right number of correctional officers.
“We are not backing off, and I am not backing down from this fight. 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,” McKinley said.
Members of AFGE Local 506 representing workers at Federal Correctional Complex Coleman traveled from Florida to join Local 420 in solidarity today as well.
“Understaffing in the Bureau of Prisons is a nationwide epidemic,” said AFGE Local 506 President Jose Rojas. “We are all part of this nationwide effort to get the administration and Congress to address this problem immediately. Our sisters and brothers who work in these federal prisons deserve nothing less.”
AFGE District 4 National Vice President Dan Doyle thanked everyone that came out in support of our officers.
“Our members have dedicated their lives to safeguarding some of the most dangerous prisons and prisoners in our country,” he said. “They deserve to be supported by the administration and Congress, and until the staffing shortage is addressed, lives are in peril. We hope that today’s protest raised awareness of the pressing issue facing FCC Hazelton – and all federal prisons – and some action can be taken soon before more lives are lost.”
Two years ago, FCC Hazelton had 880 authorized positions – which included a bump in hiring for second officers in high-security housing units. But today, after the administration cut 74 positions from the facility in March, FCC Hazelton is down to 798 authorized positions, with only 721 filled. There are more than 42 vacant positions for Correctional Officers, and the medical team is not even staffed at 60%.
“It’s morally reprehensible that this administration touts its ‘law and order’ stance, yet the leadership has turned its back on the 36,000 women and men who safeguard our prisons,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. “And instead of addressing that critical issue, the administration decided earlier this year to cut 6,000 more positions.”