PA Department of Corrections Announces Proactive Mitigation Efforts to Protect Against COVID-19

CoronavirusImage by Thiago Lazarino

HARRISBURG, PA — Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary John Wetzel announced additional steps the department is taking to keep the incarcerated population protected against COVID-19.

Effective Monday, August 9, 2021, incarcerated individuals will be assigned to housing units based on their vaccination status. Additionally, in-person visitation will be suspended until further notice for the unvaccinated inmate population only. The goal of these mitigation efforts is to protect the unvaccinated group by reducing contact with others.

“As we learn more about the highly contagious nature of the virus and its variants, it is critically important for the DOC to take proactive measures to keep our population safe,” said Secretary Wetzel. “Those who are vaccinated are protected by the vaccine, and we are working to protect those who choose not to be vaccinated by limiting contact with potential carriers of the virus.”

Access to education, programming, and other services will not be impacted by the potential change in housing assignment. No-cost video visits remain an alternative to in-person visitation, and additional video terminals will be installed in unvaccinated units. Loved ones who have a visit with an unvaccinated inmate scheduled for August 9 or later will receive a cancellation notice via email. Available time slots for in-person (vaccinated population only) and video visits may change during this transition period. Visitors who receive a cancellation notice due to these moves should visit cor.pa.gov to reschedule.

Approximately 78 percent of the state prison population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19; 21 percent, or 7,804 individuals, are not vaccinated. The total number of active COVID-19 cases at state correctional institutions remains low: 47 active cases as of August 3; however, a recent uptick in cases at SCI Phoenix, coupled with emerging information on COVID-19 variants, prompted the changes. Up-to-date information on COVID-19 within the DOC system is available on the agency’s COVID-19 dashboard.

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“DOC mitigation protocols have been largely successful at preventing new infections since early March, but we cannot afford to become complacent,” said Secretary Wetzel. “We are in a much better position to battle this virus today than we were in the first half of 2020, and we will continue to adapt and evolve and take necessary action to keep COVID out of our institutions.”

The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is available to any incarcerated individual who wants one, and facility staff regularly communicate the benefits of vaccination to the inmate population. In conjunction with the move to vaccinated/unvaccinated housing units, psychology staff will make daily rounds on unvaccinated units at least once per day. Universal indoor masking, cleaning, and health screening protocols remain in effect at all state correctional institutions.

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