Federal officials promise to test and not transfer COVID-19 positive inmates to West Virginia

CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, Preston County Commission President Samantha Stone, Preston County Prosecutor Mel Snyder, Preston County Public Health Officer Dr. Fred Conley and FCI Hazelton Warden Bryan Antonelli received confirmation Wednesday evening from the deputy director of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons that no prisoner testing positive for COVID-19 will be transported to FCI Hazelton in Preston County.

The Bureau of Prisons confirmed that prior to any transfer all prisoners would be tested with point-of-care technology and any prisoner with a positive test result would not be transferred to FCI Hazelton.

“I really hope that we can count on the personal guarantee we were given by them last night,” Preston County Commission President Samantha Stone said,”That they will not be moving anyone (COVID-19 positive)into the Hazleton facility.”

Officials from the American Federation of Government Employees say there are now five confirmed cases inside FCI Gilmer.

“I am grateful that we are making progress and we’ll continue to work to ensure that the Bureau of Prisons lives up to this promise to West Virginia,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “While much work remains, a concrete promise from the feds to test and operate under CDC guidance and not transfer any positive testing prisoners represents a step forward. We cannot and must not replicate the mistakes that plagued the Gilmer transfer. We must keep West Virginia safe.”

General Counsel for Governor Justice, Brian Abraham said a letter has been sent from the governor to the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Michael Carvajal asking them not to send prisoners to West Virginia at all. Carvajal told Governor Justice they have drastically reduced the number of prisoners that were being moved nationwide and said they are increasing testing across the system.

“He assured the governor that they would take every precaution to protect not only the inmates, but the staff that are members of the public here in West Virginia,” Abraham said,”So, we will continue to work with them going forward.”

Preston County Commission President Samantha Stone acknowledged that the arrangement is a “gentleman’s agreement.”

“I want this all to be validated, I want to be certain they’re only sending people that are negative,” Stone said,”Not that are just asymptomatic.”

Stone wants leaders across the state to band together in order to put prison officials on notice.

“I would really like to see the Gilmer County Commission and their health officials and others in the state rally together for this cause,” Stone said,”And keep the Federal Bureau of Prisons accountable.”

Attorney General Morrisey, Commission President Stone and other Preston County officials, along with U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin and the Congressional delegation have pushed for confirmation that no prisoners testing positive for COVID-19 would be transferred into West Virginia.

“We’re going to have to continue to be vigilant to ensure no positive testing prisoners are transferred to Hazleton,” Morrisey said,”I’m going to keep fighting and pushing on this critical point.”