COVID-19 and the Corrections System

COVID-19 and the Corrections System
Monday, March 30, 2020
We realize this is a difficult time for everyone, especially dedicated DOC staff, and the family and friends of those incarcerated within the PA Department of Corrections (DOC). On Sunday, the DOC learned of our first positive COVID-19 case for an inmate at SCI-Phoenix.
Unfortunately, the first positive case brings us to the necessary step of quarantining the entire system. Our primary concern is the safety of staff and those in our charge. This move is to further protect everyone as this pandemic becomes a reality within the corrections system. Every SCI has a quarantine plan and will include opportunities for inmates to communicate with loved ones through phone calls, letters and video visitation.
We understand that this news is particularly concerning, but we are confident in our staff and the plans we have developed in conjunction with CDC guidelines, to mitigate the spread as much as possible.
The COVID-19 positive inmate has since been isolated from the unit and the block in which he resided has been placed under quarantine. The facility is in the process of identifying all contacts and movement of that inmate and is providing all staff working that unit with additional personal protective equipment, to include safety goggles and gloves.
All inmates have access to robust medical staff and operations in all of our facilities. Also the DOC is working very closely with the PA Department of Health, (DOH). We have a centralized contracted doctor who is the former chief of clinical services here at the DOC to assist us as he is a specialist in public health.
Over the past three weeks, the DOC has actively been planning and preparing us for this situation. We will continue to monitor this event and notify you when conditions change. The DOC has developed the following site to provide you and the public with the most up-to-date information on current quarantine status and population across the system:
https://www.cor.pa.gov/Pages/COVID-19-Dashboard.aspx
Below is a summary of the actions the DOC has taken to date to address issues associated with COVID-19:
Inmates
• All visitation was suspended effective March 13. Visits are suspended through April 10 at which time it will be reevaluated.
o Attorneys and select members of the PA Prison Society are permitted access if they pass the enhanced screening.
• Authorized visitors and inmates can participate in a new video visitation program that allows visitors to participate from home.
o For complete details, including how to schedule a video visit, read the Video Visitation Visitor Guide. (En Español)
• All inmates will receive 5 free 15-minute phone calls and 5 free emails per week.
• Each inmate will be permitted (without cost) to mail 12, one-ounce first class letters per month.
• Treatment programs continue to be provided within the institutions; however, they are conducted in groups of ten or less and with all inmates and staff maintaining social distancing of six feet or more.
• Activities departments have increased activity opportunities.
• Commissary caps have increased from $70 per week to $100 per week.
• Town Hall meetings are being held via TV to educate inmates on COVID-19.
• Secretary Wetzel recorded an informational video that is posted on the inmate channel for all inmates.
• All new inmates are being screened before being admitted into prison. We are not releasing any inmates without screening for symptoms.
• Inmates who have flu-like symptoms from counties will not be accepted. All inmates leaving our facilities (parolees, max outs, movements, etc.) will be screened.
• Medical co-pays have been waived for any inmate with influenza like illness (ILI).
• Inmates have been provided with masks and are required to utilize them.
• Inmates are being provided materials to clean their cell daily. Materials will be provided to them on a daily basis.
Staff
• Each facility is conducting enhanced screening for all individuals entering a facility. No one will be permitted to enter a facility who has a fever over 100.4 or exhibits signs of cold or flu.
• Masks are required for all staff and institutions have provided each staff member with cloth masks for use. Employees are permitted to provide their own mask similar to the ones the facility is handing out.
• Daily updates are emailed to ALL staff to mitigate rumors and provide up-to-date information.
• Personal Protection Equipment is provided to all staff. Masks are being manufactured by the DOC’s Correctional Industries. All CDC and DOH protocols are being followed in reference to masking.
• N95 masks are provided for those who meet CDC protocols for the masks
Sanitation
• Institutions are holding town hall meetings with their inmate population to review sanitation guidelines and COVID-19 information for awareness. These meetings are conducted with institutions safety manager and infectious control nurse via TV. Inmates are being educated on prevention/ mitigation efforts and cleaning.
• Sanitation has increased all throughout the SCI, including housing units and cells.
• Provided all staff with a vehicle sanitation plan explaining how to clean all vehicles.
• Correctional Industries increased production of anti-bacterial soap to ensure all inmates and staff have sufficient supply throughout the institution. Soap is provided free of charge to inmates.
• Directed all equipment (radios, OC, etc.) to be cleaned after each shift and throughout the day.
SCIs
• Every SCI has plans in place for quarantine if an inmate tests positive
• SCI Laurel Highlands and SCI Waymart will not be accepting new inmates. This has been expanded to include SCI-Fayette, which houses oncology.
• To ensure any Parole violators and new commitments are not infected with COVID-19, all males will go to SCI Retreat to begin the initial quarantine period. Once successfully completed they will be transferred to SCI-Camp Hill for classification and evaluation. Females will continue to go to SCIs Muncy and Cambridge Springs.
• Transports of inmates are limited to only those that are mission critical to operations
• Monitoring sick-call and staff health and advising employees to stay home if they are sick.
• Postponing audits, inspections and reentry job fairs that were scheduled for March and April.
• Emergency meal planning has been completed in the event a unit needs to be quarantined.
• Pennsylvania Correctional Industries is increasing manufacturing capabilities.
• PCI is manufacturing anti-bacterial soap, gowns and masks.
• All gyms and barber shops/cosmetology are closed until further notice.
• The general libraries will be closed for inmates, but they can request books and have books delivered to them. The legal libraries will remain open as normal. Legal libraries will be prioritized based on most critical need.
Parole/Field/Reentry
• All parole hearings will continue as scheduled and follow the existing process.
• Bureau of Community Corrections is furloughing eligible reentrants.
• Community Corrections has implemented additional sanitation efforts.
• Community Corrections staff and reentrants are undergoing enhanced screening.
• Field agents have increased contacts via technology.
• Agents are equipped with PPE to use if necessary.
New measures will be enacted when the need arises and as the situation develops. For the most accurate and up-to-date information on COVID-19 in Pennsylvania, follow the PA Department of Health.
If you or any members of you team have questions regarding COVID-19 and the corrections system, please feel free to contact the DOC Office of Policy, Grants and Legislative Affairs.
Diana Woodside, Director, dwoodside@pa.gov 717-728-4119
Dwayne Heckert, Legislative Liaison, dwheckert@pa.gov 717-728-4027

Back to top