(Savannah Jones is the author of this story)

HAZELTON W.Va – A hiring process change at Hazelton Federal Prison in Preston County is chipping away at the longstanding staffing shortage and looking to improve working conditions for officers.

American Federation of Government Employees Local 420 President Justin Tarovisky said the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ recent allowance of localized hiring for the prison is already speeding up the hiring process as a class of seven new officers will be onboarded this week.

These additions bring the prison’s officer shortage down to just below 90.

Previously, applicants were required to apply through BOP headquarters in Grand Prairie, Texas, but now applications are reviewed in-house by the prison’s human resources department.

Tarovisky said applicants were required to reapply if they made minor clerical or formatting errors on their applications previously, greatly slowing down the application process.

“[The BOP] thought by having a centralized location in this country to help out all facilities would benefit and it’s actually drug the process out even longer and just put people in quicksand, especially if you just made a simple clerical error,” he said.

Amid staffing shortages, Tarovisky said the prison has received temporary help from workers at other facilities in 30-day stints. Although the extra help is appreciated, Tarovisky said the only solution is a large hiring spree.

“They’ve given us a break, but it’s only a bandaid to the solution,” he said. “The only solution that we can have right now with this direct hiring authority is massive hiring one class after another. I’ve seen it work here at Hazelton.”

Tarovisky said he anticipates the staffing deficit to be closed quickly due to this process change, which is much needed for current employees.

“These guys, again, need a break because, when you’re getting hit 4-5 times a week and you’re working so much of this overtime, it’s not good for anybody in this situation,” he said.

The hiring shortage at the facility sparked increased safety concerns for officers and inmates, inciting several protests requesting a change last year.

The facility is not unfamiliar with violence, as two inmate deaths were reported in March. Tarovisky said the occurrence of violent incidents fluctuates often, but the staffing shortages have contributed to a recent increase.

“One thing that doesn’t help with the violence is when you’re severely understaffed. I mean, it don’t help that you’re on three doubles in a row and something takes place where you’re working, you’re not charged up, you’re not ready to go. So that just makes a more dangerous situation,” he said.

Tarovisky said he hopes the hiring process change will be permanent.

“I just don’t want this to be a year thing. ‘Oh, the director authorized direct hiring authority for Hazelton for a year.’ I want it to go back to what it was. I don’t want to be called direct hiring; I just want it to be called hiring,” he said.

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