HARRISBURG – Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel announced Friday that, beginning May 26, the DOC will begin the demobilization (or reopening) process for state prisons.
Wetzel said the department will use a system of five levels that is guided by the governor’s statewide reopening plans.
“As the governor reopens Pennsylvania, we, too, must return to a more normal operation, and get back to preparing individuals to successfully reenter society,” Wetzel said.
“I’m very appreciative of our staff who have worked tirelessly to slow the spread of this virus, and it’s time to move forward with caution.”
Wetzel said the plan is consistent with Gov. Tom Wolf’s reopening plan that consists of a phased approach that relies on safety and science.
Specifically, as counties go from red, yellow and green, prisons within those counties will be gradually increasing the “cohort size” or number of inmates allowed out at one time.
Programs and religious services will also slowly transition from cell based, back to an approach with smaller numbers to ensure social distancing.
The DOC’s plan consists of five levels, with Level 5 being most restrictive and Level 1 being least restrictive. Successful movement to lower levels will depend on whether there are any new confirmed COVID-19 positive cases among staff or inmates.
The designation of the county in which the prison is located also plays a role in determining the appropriate level of reopening.
“While we may never return to pre-COVID operations, we do expect to return to near normal operations that includes social distancing and continued monitoring of staff and inmates for symptoms,” Wetzel said.
“We believe in acting quickly and aggressively when responding to this virus, while affording more out-of-cell time and allowing inmates to return to work, education, programing and activities.”
On May 26, the following facilities officially will move to Level 4: Camp Hill, Chester, Coal Township, Dallas, Frackville, Huntingdon, Mahanoy, Phoenix, Retreat, Smithfield and Waymart.
On May 26, the following facilities will move to Level 3: Albion, Benner Township, Cambridge Springs, Fayette, Forest, Greene, Houtzdale, Laurel Highlands, Mercer, Muncy, Pine Grove, Quehanna, Rockview and Somerset.
Wetzel said that employee enhanced screening will continue and that both staff and inmates will be required to wear masks.
Contact visits remain suspended through all levels until the entire state is “green.” Video visits – which have been well received by inmates and visitors — will remain an option, and directions for participating in video visits can be obtained from the DOC’s Web site.
Additionally, a COVID testing strategy has been initiated that includes (in part) testing of all transfers within the DOC, all individuals who are to be released from the DOC, and all new commitments from county jails.
DOC officials are drafting reentry and parole supervision demobilization plans and expect to finalize them in June.