Harrisburg, PA – Department of Corrections (DOC) Sec. John Wetzel today announced that, on Saturday, March 28, officials will begin the temporary use of the State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Retreat as the reception facility for new male commitments to the DOC and for male parole violators.
"Currently, we have no positive cases of COVID-19 in our state prison inmate population, and we are working to delay the virus entering our system," Wetzel said. "This change in how we receive newly sentenced inmates and parole violators will reduce the number of ways individuals enter our system. With this plan, moving forward, only one facility will be involved, greatly reducing the ways the virus can enter our system."
Following an intake quarantine period at SCI Retreat, the new commitments will be sent to SCI Camp Hill for classification and evaluation.
In preparation for this major change, Wetzel sent a letter today to all county prisons informing them that the DOC is pausing new commitments for several days. He also informed sheriffs through a conference call.
While new commitments and PV returns are delayed, DOC officials will take the opportunity to reduce the inmate population at SCI Retreat by transferring inmates to other state prisons, while leaving a number of inmates to work in dietary and maintenance areas. Officials also are increasing the medical staff and medical supplies at this facility.
Wetzel said the DOC receives approximately 150 new male commitments and parole violator returns statewide each week.
"We are doing all we can to mitigate the impact this virus will have on our system," Wetzel said. "All ideas are being considered."
Wetzel said that the overarching goal is to safely and responsibly reduce the prison system's population while minimizing the risk that new commitments present by localizing their commitment at a site that will be set up to quarantine by commitment cohorts, with staff equipped in personal protective equipment.
Female new commitments will continue to be received at SCIs Muncy and Cambridge Springs. However, moving forward Muncy only will accept new commitments weekly on Tuesday and Thursday.
Additional steps being introduced to reduce the DOC's inmate population include:
- 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
Wetzel also commended his DOC and parole supervision employees. "It is an honor it is to be in the trenches with the best team in the business," Wetzel said. "They all are doing an incredible job in the midst of impossible circumstances. I am just overwhelmingly grateful."
While county prisons are not under the jurisdiction of the DOC, Wetzel also expressed his gratitude to county corrections staff across the state and also for the sheriffs who transport inmates to the state prison system. "Everyone is doing a great job working together to do whatever is necessary to mitigate the impact COVID-19 has on our systems," he said.
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