The State Correctional Institutions in Greene and Fayette counties are two of 25 prisons across the state to begin a reopening process next week, state Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said Friday.
Wetzel outlined a five-level process for prisons, with Level 5 being the most restrictive and Level 1 being the least.
In a release, Wetzel further explained that specifically, as counties from red to yellow to green, state prisons will be gradually increase the number of inmates allowed out at one time, and programs and religious services will slowly transition from cell-based, back to smaller gatherings to ensure social distancing.
Successful movement to lower levels will depend on whether there are any new confirmed COVID-19 positive cases among staff or inmates, Wetzel said. The state prison in Luzerne County, Fayette County had one inmate diagnosed with COVID-19 and three employees, two of whom have recovered.
One employee at the state prison in Waynesburg, Greene County was diagnosed with COVID-19, and has recovered, according to state records.
“The designation of the county in which the prison is located also plays a role in determining the appropriate level of reopening,” Wetzel said.
Greene and Fayette SCIs will join the following prisons that will reopen in Level 3 on May 26: Albion, Benner Township, Cambridge Springs, Forest, Houtzdale, Laurel Highlands, Mercer, Muncy, Pine Grove, Quehanna, Rockview and Somerset.
Inmates in Level 3 facilities are permitted to have gatherings with 20 people or fewer; treatment and educational services may occur on-unit with groups practicing social distancing; medications can be distributed at Medical Services, and medical services are allowed to be on unit where possible; meals may be served in dining halls with smaller groups; and work detail will be permitted in small groups.
Other Level 3 allowances include: Law and leisure library services will be open with cohort and social distancing limitations; attorney visits and video visitation will be permitted; religious activities may resume the chapel with cohort and social distancing limitations; and unit activity – including yard, showers and phones – will be permitted.
Barber shop and cosmetology services and use of the gymnasium will not be permitted until facilities reach Levels 1 and 2.
In-person visits remain suspended at all state prisons until the entire state has reached the green designation, Wetzel said.
Wetzel added that the following facilities in Pennsylvania will be moved to Level 4 on May 26: Camp Hill, Chester, Coal Township, Dallas, Frackville, Huntingdon, Mahanoy, Phoenix, Retreat, Smithfield and Waymart.
A chart completely detailing the levels and their respective restrictions and allowances may be found at visiting www.cor.pa.gov.
Wetzel added that a COVID-19 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, he said.
“As the governor reopens Pennsylvania, we, too, must return to a more normal operation, and get back to preparing individuals to successfully re-enter society,” he 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.
“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,” he continued. “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, programming and activities.”
During the phone conference, Wetzel said the statewide lockdown in March was a smart strategy, and since then, DOC officials have continued to meet with health experts and representatives from the state Department of Health and Gov. Tom Wolf’s office to discuss when the facilities could begin moving forward.
“We’ve learned a lot since this started, and we’re continuing to learn … this has led to this updated demobilization strategy, which we anticipate will help mitigate risks,” he said.