25 Investigates: Prison where Whitey Bulger died was known for being 'very violent'

The federal prison in West Virginia where notorious mobster Whitey Bulger was found dead was known to be a violent place, earning it the name Misery Mountain.

Bulger was found unresponsive at 8:20 a.m. at USP Hazelton less than 24 hours after being transferred from an Oklahoma prison.

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For years, corrections officers at the Bruceton Mills high-security facility have been complaining about not having enough guards to watch over the prison’s more than 1200 inmates, including some with ties to organized crime.

“From what I understand, it was a murder,” Rick Heldreth, president of AFGE  Local 420, the union that represents employees at Hazelton, told 25 Investigates. “This is a very violent facility. It always has been.”

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According to Heldreth, a hiring freeze has forced the facility to operate with 40 fewer correction officers since 2017, and the team that responds to medical emergencies operates at only 60 percent capacity.  He and others have been complaining about understaffing and security concerns at the facility for years.

“You can never stop all the violence at a facility, but the more people you have, the higher the chances you have for staff to interrupt the situation in progress or stop violence from happening,’ Heldreth added.

Bulger’s death is the third inmate fatality at the facility this year alone.  In April, a 48-year old man died following an altercation with another inmate.  Similarly, a 27-year old inmate was also killed during a fight.

“I think it is a failure of the system when any inmates sentenced to a certain level of imprisonment ends up facing something more than that,” said Heldreth.

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Some lawmakers are now calling for an investigation into the treatment of prisoners at Hazelton and whether the deaths could have been prevented. Earlier this month, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia sent a letter to the Department of Justice’s Inspector General calling for an investigation into conditions at Hazelton, following the deaths of two inmates from the DC area.

The DOJ Inspector General’s Office did not offer any comment when 25 Investigates asked if it plans to investigate conditions at the facility following the news of Bulger’s death.