HARRISBURG, DAUPHIN COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – Department of Corrections Sec. John Wetzel announced Monday that at 10:00 PM on March 29, he implemented a statewide inmate quarantine in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Quarantining the entire system is in the best interest of our employees and our inmates,” Wetzel said. “This is essentially forced social distancing. We must take this step to contain the virus to one facility and to keep it from spreading throughout the system. I don’t want to wait until we have several cases in our system to act. We’re taking this proactive measure now.”
On March 29, DOC officials announced that its first COVID-19 case was confirmed for one inmate at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Phoenix, Montgomery County.
Wetzel said that inmates will be fed in their cells, and they will be afforded out-of-cell time for video visits, phone calls, access to the law library, as well as being provided with in-cell programming. All inmate movement will be controlled to conform to social distancing recommendations.
“We realize this is an inconvenience for staff and the inmates, but again, we are doing this to protect everyone’s wellbeing,” Wetzel said.
The DOC houses nearly 44,600 inmates in 25 state prisons. County prisons are not operated by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and are not impacted by this quarantine.
On March 28, DOC officials began using SCI Retreat as a reception facility for new court commitments and parole violators to limit outsiders entering the system. Individuals at this prison are quarantined for 14 days upon their arrival.
DOC leaders also have been working to reduce the inmate population by:
Working with the parole board to maximize releases.
Reviewing parole detainers for individuals in county jails and state prisons.
Expediting the release process for anyone with a pending home plan.
Reviewing inmates within the state prison system who are beyond their minimum sentences.
Reducing the number of reentrants in halfway houses.
Giving each inmate released a medical screening and referring to doctors when appropriate.