This is a developing story that will be updated.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr has agreed to stop sending additional out-of-state prisoners to two West Virginia correctional facilities during the coronavirus pandemic.
The move followed weeks of criticism from officials, including Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who made the announcement today in a press release.
The federal Bureau of Prisons transferred 124 out-of-state prisoners to the Federal Correctional Institution in Gilmer County on April 28 because this facility, and the Hazelton Correctional Center in Preston County, were both named as quarantine locations for new inmates entering the federal prison system. One of the newly-added Gilmer prisoners tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after the move.
The Bureau didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Last month West Virginia Public Broadcasting reported on the bureau’s plans to transfer hundreds of Washington, D.C.-area prisoners to the Hazelton Federal Correctional Center in Preston County. Those transfers have not happened, according to the local chapter of The American Federation of Government Employees union, which represents Hazelton corrections staff.
On Friday, that chapter’s executive vice president Justin Tarovisky called Barr’s move a “common sense, safety and security decision” that “should have been made from the beginning.”
“These are inmates from throughout the country that come to West Virginia,” he said. “And with this COVID-19 that’s going around, the smart decision is to not move inmates until this pandemic has been squashed, has been handled with a vaccine or whatever.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., has also opposed additional transfers, along with U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va and Gov. Jim Justice, who wrote the bureau a letter on April 24.
Data on May 8 from the BOP’s website shows there are 3,456 prisoners at Hazelton, and 1,545 prisoners at Gilmer.
There were 8,821 federal prisoners statewide, in six counties.
Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.