Pa. Corrections Department lays out plan for getting state prisons to new normal

Cherri Gregg
May 22, 2020 - 3:31 pm
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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections is gearing up to reopen after nearly two months of a statewide facility lockdown designed to stop the spread of COVID-19. The agency’s strategy corresponds to the statewide reopening plan.

The five-level plan has three phases guided by the red, yellow and green tier strategy for reopening Pennsylvania, county by county.

“Just from an overall state perspective, the risk is getting lower,” said Corrections Secretary John Wetzel.

He put the entire state prison system on lockdown in late March, limiting inmate movement and out-of-cell time to an hour of day. But that was a short term strategy. 

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Now, he said, with reduced infections statewide and new protocols, it’s time to open things up.

“We have a testing strategy that I think puts us in a position that I think mitigates the risk and puts us in a position where I think we can get back to normal,” he explained. 

Levels four and five correspond with the red phase and are most restrictive; levels three, two and one are less restrictive, corresponding with the yellow and green phases, providing inmates with more out-of-cell time, access to programs and eventually, in-person visits.

He said the department has learned how to contain COVID-19 by screening staff, testing all transfers and releases, among other methods. 

In addition, 350 inmates have been released, helping to reduce the prison population. 

The DOC’s plan goes into effect Tuesday.