HARRISBURG, Pa. (WKBN) – The Pennsylvania State prison system is going into quarantine.
Department of Corrections Sec. John Wetzel announced Monday he implemented a statewide inmate quarantine late Sunday night 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.
In addition to the quarantine, officials began using SCI Retreat over the weekend for new inmates and parole violators as a 14-day quarantine facility.
DOC leaders are also working with local agencies to reduce inmate populations by expediting releases, reviewing parole detainers, and reducing the number reentrants, among other measures.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is being asked to order the release of some inmates from county jails to help reduce the spread of the new virus.
A petition filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania says that tight inmate quarters, a lack of sanitation, and a limited ability to treat and quarantine people suspected of having COVID-19 presents an “extraordinary public health risk” to inmates, staff and surrounding communities.
The legal action was taken as Pike County officials announced that a staffer at the jail has tested positive for COVID-19.