Congressman McKinley supports USP Hazleton employees protest

Published: Nov. 16, 2018 at 11:50 PM EST
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Just last month James "Whitey Bulger, a notorious Boston gangster responsible for numerous murders, was found dead in his cell at USP Hazleton.

But Bulger's murder is just one of several deaths that occurred at the maximum security prison this year.

Representatives from the local AFG say these problems are a result of major under-staffing.

"It's contributing to increased violence levels that's resulted in the third killing in the last several months at the facility," says Richard Heldreth the President of the local American Federation of Government Employees (AFG)

Positions that have been vacant due to a hiring freeze are now set to be cut.

"Last year we had a hiring freeze for the entire year, which resulted in over 100 positions being left vacant. And earlier this year, the agency decided to cut a large portion of those positions," said Heldreth "brought our total staffing down from 880 to about 790,"

The local 420 chapter of the union stood along I-68 from sunrise to sunset in an effort to make a point and inform more people about the issues at the prison.

As employees under the government, they are looking to local officials to help them make changes.

Congressman Mckinley spoke at the protest.

He says he is working on legislation to fix these issues.

"There's a staffing problem here. And it's showing up," said McKinley "Here's a chance, we don't get many chances to work on prison reform, we got a piece of legislation let's work on it and get it done,"

Mckinley referenced the First Step Act, prison reform legislation that passed through the House.

His hope is that as the act moves through the senate they can add to that legislation and address USP Hazleton's problems.

"Since we had already passed our house version out, we can't amend ours anymore," McKinley stated "It relies now combining the senate version in it and a compromise. When you talk with the senate try to work in language about the increasing in staffing across this county."

Five News reached out to USP Hazleton for comment but were unable to reach them.