Inmate COVID case at FCI Hazelton traced to U.S. Marshall Service transfer

BRUCETON MILLS, W.Va. – An inmate transferred to FCI Hazelton by the U.S. Marshalls Service tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival earlier this week.

According to American Federation of Government Employees local 420 president Richard Heldreth, the development is troubling after all the effort to earlier in the pandemic to prevent federal officials from designating the facility as a quarantine site.

“Those inmates aren’t tested or quarantined before they’re sent us,”Heldreth said,”So, it’s really in the blind, we don’t know who we’re getting until get them and test them.”

The U.S. Marshalls Service is responsible for transporting newly sentenced subjects and transferring inmates between facilities in the United States. Estimates say nearly 10,000 prisoners were shuttled around the country in January and February of 2020.

Various published reports indicate COVID-19 positive prisoners have reportedly been sent to facilities in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Colorado, Illinois, Texas and Pennsylvania for the U.S. Marshalls Service.

Heldreth says they have been able to keep COVID away from the inmate population until the U.S. Marshalls Service began transferring prisoners.

“Procedures and protocols we’ve put in place over the last five months have been very effective,”Heldreth said,”Inmates are quarantined and tested before they’re moved from one facility to another, then tested and quarantined again when they arrive at another facility.”

Public affairs specialist from the U.S. Marshalls Service, Lynzey Donahue has not responded to a list of questions regarding inmate transfer procedures.

“Whether or not they’re testing inmates before they’re moving them, there’s really no reason to avoid that question,”Heldreth said,”The sooner we get to the bottom of that, the sooner we can fix this problem and stop risking the health of these communities.”

FCI Hazelton staff members have had cases of COVID, but Heldreth contends their protocols have kept the infection from spreading among the prison population and communities where guards live.

“Around a dozen staff cases since the pandemic started, none of them originated from the facility they were from community spread,”Heldreth said,”Through quarantining and contact tracing and all the precautions we have been able to keep it from spreading throughout the facility.”

The U.S. Marshalls Service continues to transfer inmates all over the country, and because of security concerns some facilities have little or no time prepare for their arrival.