UPDATE: Rep. David McKinley against transfer of out-of-state inmates to Hazelton prison
Representative David McKinley says he is aiding county commissioners and union members opposing the transfer of inmates from a Washington D.C. prison to Hazelton USP in Preston County.
"If these prisoners are coming from the city of Washington, Washington D.C.. I have a problem with that, and so do the correctional officers. There are [around 800] correctional officers and staff at the prison and 3,000 prisoners," said Rep. McKinley.
He says he wants to make sure prison guards are trained with personal protective equipment properly before allowing a transfer.
"They think if I have a mask and a gown I am fine. No, talk to nurses that deal with diseases like this at the hospital, in the emergency room, you will find out the process they have to go through," said Rep. McKinley.
An inmate serving a sentence in Hazelton USP filed a federal suit against the prison earlier this month to grant him masks and gloves to protect against COVID-19.
Rep. McKinley says bringing patients that have potentially been exposed while in the Washington D.C. prison to Hazelton USP puts inmates, guards and residents of Preston County at risk. The county only has 13 confirmed cases as of 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Rep. McKinley says he sent a letter to the Bureau of Prisons to begin the process of opposing the transfer. If the bureau decides to move forward, McKinley asked Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to prepare for litigation.
Several officials and union members are upset as the Federal Bureau of Prisons are transferring inmates from out of state to the United States Penitentiary in Hazelton. American Federation of Government Employees local 420 president Richard Heldreth says the transfer will put several people in harms way.
"We're totally against it it's irresponsible, dangerous and frankly makes no sense," Heldreth said.
Heldreth says the transfer goes against CDC guidelines of what everyone should be doing during the pandemic.
"They are telling everybody around the country is you have been exposed to anybody or have been sick you should quarantine for 14 days," Heldreth said. "Instead they have the outbreak at the D.C. jail and they are trying to ship us 200 to 300 inmates at least."
Currently, Hazelton has no cases of COVID-19. Heldreths the transfer could change that.
"We've worked really hard up here, we've used a lot of common sense and implement the recommendations that's allowed us to be fortunate enough to have any cases," Heldreth said.
Heldreth says agencies told him the inmates would be screened beforehand but he says that won't help stop any spread.
"Many people that have this virus are asymptomatic," Heldreth said. "We have around 4,000 inmates up here and over 800 staff they live all around the communities."
We reached out to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and did not get a response back.
The Federal Bureau of prisons chose the United States Penitentiary Hazelton and the Gilmer Federal Correctional Institution to be quarantine sites for out-of-state inmates. Preston County Commission President Samantha Stone says she is not happy with the choice.
"West Virginia in general has maintained very low percentages of positive cases," Stone said. "We're going to bring prisoners that could possibly be COVID positive into our county and into the federal prison where we have over 800 plus employees."
Stone says the prison is taking extra precautionary measures to protect everyone but does not understand why the transfer needs to happen.
"To be transporting people that are possibly positive into an environment that has no positives I think it is unfair to the employees to be expected to deal with positive cases," Stone said.
Stone says the transfer could also put the community and first responders at risk as well.
"Our EMS having to respond to things at the prison, our fire departments, there is just so many unanswered, open-ended questions," Stone said.
A lot of details on the transfer have not been given but Stone says the Hazelton and Gilmer could get 100 to 300 inmates. Stone says she does not know why those two were chosen out of so many prisons across the country.
Stone says she has reached out to several state leaders on the issue. At his press conference Monday, Governor Jim Justice says he sent a letter out to the President on his objection with the transfer.
Stone hopes the transfer is stopped for now or a plan is made to ensure the safety of the employees and inmates at Hazelton.
"I think that the prisoners that are being transported and going to different facilities need to have a negative test before they are shipped out," Stone said.
We reached out to members of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 420 union and did not get a response.