PRESTON COUNTY, W.Va. Workers at United States Penitentiary (USP) Hazelton are calling attention to unsafe working conditions caused by staffing levels and a failure of leadership to address recent violent acts.
American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 420 President Justin Tarovisky said during an appearance Monday on MetroNews “Talkline,” a female guard was sexually assaulted by an inmate, then inmates punched several other staff members, and a stabbing between inmates was reported.
Tarovisky said despite the attacks, no action was taken by leadership to lock the facility down and send a message to inmates.
Tarovisky said it’s been this bad before, and that resulted in multiple inmate suicides and multiple inmate homicides.
“Right now, we’re back to those 2016 days where a lot of this stuff has cascaded out of control,” Tarovisky said.
Bryan Antonelli was appointed as warden after the 2018 murder of gangster Whitey Bulger and began sweeping changes that involved aggressive hiring practices and increased safety. Tarovisky said he knows what works and what doesn’t, and the current leadership is not making those important calls.
“Those are the types of things we want, and we’ve seen it happen in the past, and we want to continue to support our staff, and again, this creates a safer environment for the inmates,” Tarovisky said.
Following those incidents, a response from USP Hazelton leadership did not acknowledge the sexual assault but did report that two employees were assaulted by inmates.
The response said that due to privacy and security concerns, further comments on an active investigation would not be made.
“It should not be tolerated when you put your hands on our staff—plain and simple,” Tarovisky said. “Again, this is about law and order, safety, and security, and most times when they put hands on our staff, the institution does not go on lockdown.”
Tarovisky was at USP Hazelton when Bryan Antonelli, whom Tarovisky calls a fixer, was appointed and quickly addressed safety and staffing concerns.
“I know the progress that can happen and the people you can put into place to make that happen,” Tarovisky said. “That’s what we need right now at Hazelton, especially the United States Penitentiary.”
According to Tarovisky, when you deal with some of the most dangerous people in the country, you have to be assertive. The actions being taken now are increasing tension and the likelihood of another serious attack or injury.
“Our staff has been here a long time; myself, I’ve been here for 15 years,” Tarovisky said. “It has to be a law and order situation where we don’t put up with that, and if you don’t, things will get out of control.”