Concerned about staff safety at Federal Correctional Complex Hazelton, the union representing prison workers is trying to raise public awareness of the issue through two large billboards along Interstate 68 in Preston County.
Located between Exit 29 and the Maryland state line, the billboards read “2014 alone — 150 assaults + 2 murders. Hazelton Prison is unsafe for the community, inmates and staff.”
The billboard is sponsored by the American Federation of Government Employees Local 420.
The eastbound billboard is also within eyesight of hotel rooms at the Microtel Inn & Suites in Hazelton, a hotel that caters to prison business.
Robert Reckart, Local 420’s treasurer, said last week the union would like to see changes in how inmate discipline is handled by prison management.
“When you have total disregard for the disciplinary process, the result is the facts and figures on the billboard,” he said.
Reckart said the union feels prison management is being too lax in cases where inmates need to be disciplined, which creates an unsafe environment for staff.
“When you circumvent the disciplinary process ... you have an unsafe prison,” he said.
The union has picketed before over what it believes to be unsafe working conditions, including in March near the Pine Run Service Station, located at Exit 29, according to WBOY-TV.
In April, a prison worker was stabbed by an inmate wielding an ice pick-style shank, according to WDTV. That worker survived his injuries.
Local 420 has 589 members, Reckart said.
The prison released a statement through its public information officer concerning the billboard after being contacted by the Daily Mail.
“The Bureau of Prisons is dedicated to ensuring all our institutions remain safe for our staff as well as for the inmates entrusted to our care,” the statement read. “But we also recognize that prisons can be inherently dangerous places. The United States Penitentiary at Hazelton continues to operate in a manner consistent with established security and management protocols. The assault rates at Hazelton are not higher than at other Bureau institutions of the same security level.”
FCC Hazelton has two main prisons — United States Penitentiary Hazelton, a high-security facility with a minimum-security satellite camp, and Federal Correctional Institution Hazelton, a medium security facility.
The prison is located about a mile away from the Maryland state line and about three miles away from the Pennsylvania state line.
USP Hazelton was dedicated in 2005 and its construction was facilitated by the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd. It cost $148 million.
Together with its satellite camp and “secure female facility,” USP Hazelton held 2,253 inmates as of Thursday. FCI Hazelton held 460 inmates.