WASHINGTON — D.C.’s delegate to Congress demanded removal of her constituents from the U.S. Penitentiary Hazelton in Bruceton Mills, W.Va., after notorious mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger was killed at the facility this morning.
Bulger, 89, had been transferred to the facility Monday. He was arrested in 2011 after 16 years on the run and sentenced five years ago to two life terms.
“He was sentenced to life in prison, but as a result of decisions by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, that sentence has been changed to the death penalty,” defense attorney J.W. Carney, Jr., said in a statement.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) sent a letter this month to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz demanding an investigation of the West Virginia facility after two D.C. inmates died there in the past year in fights with other inmates. D.C. Code felons are the only ones who have not committed federal crimes who are housed at Hazelton.
As of Oct. 9, according to Norton’s office, 501 D.C. Code felons were house at the prison. After Bulger’s death today, Norton is demanding they all be removed from the facility for their safety.
Bulger’s death, she said, increases “the need for an IG investigation into the operations and prisoner conditions” there.
“Based on reports from my constituents who are housed at Hazelton and their relatives, there appears to be a serious shortage of staffing and other resources, leaving prisoners and guards vulnerable to attacks,” Norton added.
In the delegate’s earlier letter to the inspector general, Norton wrote that “serious allegations have been raised concerning brutal treatment of inmates housed in the Special Housing Unit.”
“We recently learned from the family of my constituent that he had been, in their words, ‘beaten badly by… prison guards to the point they fractured his ribs.’ His family also reports that he told them that three weeks prior to this incident, guards went to his cell three times, taunted him and eventually handcuffed and beat him. They further claim that ‘during the incident he blacked out and woke up chained, [hand]cuffed and left in a dry cell with a half mattress for 17 HOURS with NO medical assistance.’ His family says a padlock was used to tighten a chain around his waist, causing the lock to dig into his pelvic area for 17 hours. His family further claims that his food arrives with pubic hairs, his property has been stolen and he is taunted to elicit a reaction, allowing BOP guards to beat him with alleged justification,” the letter continued.
“Another of my constituents at Hazelton claims he was attacked by guards and left in solitary confinement for several days, where he was unable to receive medical attention. He has indicated that the chain wrapped around his stomach made it difficult for him to breathe. I understand that this matter was referred to the Office of Internal Affairs, but, given its serious nature, I believe it merits an investigation by your office as well.”
Norton said she was told by the D.C. Corrections Information Council that a recent survey of 58 inmates at Hazelton revealed only 29 percent said they felt safe there.
“These inmates also indicated there were staff who had been performing duties outside the scope of their work, which may account for some of these issues,” she added. “Based on the evidence presented to my office, I believe that the federal employees serving in this facility have likely received inadequate training, are under-supported, and are being compelled to perform duties outside the scope of their positions and their training, which is leading to these horrific and entirely unacceptable outcomes.”
Norton said today that Bulger’s death “underscores reports of a culture of violence at Hazelton and the need for the inspector general to begin an investigation immediately.”