COVID-19 and the DOC
Every day, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) will share basic information and statistics about the status of COVID-19 in the state prison system. The DOC is fully compliant with CDC testing guidelines and that inmates have access to robust medical staff/operations at both the local and Central Office levels, including a former chief of clinical services who specializes in public health who has returned to serve as a special advisor to DOC leaders.
Individual-specific information and testing details will not be provided by the DOC.
For all the latest updates on COVID in Pennsylvania, visit the
PA Department of Health’s website, including the
All data regarding vaccinations, positive cases of COVID-19 and inmate population can be found on our dashboard. The dashboard includes statistical and demographic data for inmate deaths related to COVID-19. There have been seven staff deaths during COVID-19.
View the dashboard below or
view it as a new tab in your browser.
All employee related data is self-reported. The DOC does not have the right to obtain medical information on staff.
Employees who test positive are directed to remain home until they are cleared by a medical professional to return to work. Employees awaiting results are directed to self-quarantine at their homes. Employees who test negative may return to work once cleared by a medical professional.
The DOC is also now testing wastewater at all state prisons to monitor for an influx in the COVID-19 viral load. This report can help DOC officials find a spike in the virus and test accordingly.
DOC staff and inmates at SCI Laurel Highlands, SCI Waymart and SCI Muncy are in Phase 1A of the vaccination distribution plan because they have been federally designated a long-term care facility. While the vaccine is voluntary for staff and inmates, it is strongly encouraged.
The PA DOC uses “demobilization” to describe moving from one scenario to another inside the facilities.
On May 22,
the DOC announced the demobilization plans to slowly reopen the prisons.
The DOC’s plan consists of 5 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.
In March 2020, the DOC began a video visitation program in lieu of in-person visits to keep inmates connected to their families. On Aug. 19, 2020, a new, permanent program was unveiled to make scheduling visits easier. This new program will remain in place even when in-person visits resume.
Learn more about the video visitation program.
From March 19-August 31, the DOC utilized Zoom for video visitation. During that period, DOC conducted 129,658 video visits.
Reducing the Population
To better manage COVID-19 when it enters the DOC, officials have begun reducing the population where they can. Steps taken include:
- Furloughing paroled individuals from centers to home plans
- Working with the parole board to maximize parole 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
Temporary Program to Reprieve Sentences of Incarceration
Gov. Tom Wolf issued reprieves for Department of Corrections inmates who met criteria for the
Temporary Program to Reprieve Sentences of Incarceration, which the governor established through order on April 10, 2020.
Read the list of inmates who have had their sentences temporarily reprieved.
To help mitigate the mental health aspect of COVID-19 quarantine, inmates have been given additional controlled out of cell time, video visitation, free phone calls, an increased amount of free mailing envelopes, COVID-19 specific information shared on inmate channel, inspirational videos from celebrities and free cable for those who have TVs. Some institutions have purchased board games and puzzles for the inmates as well and all institutions have increased/frequent rounding of the blocks by executive staff talking to the inmates to hear about their concerns.
In addition, the DOC Psychology Office has implemented a significant amount of enhancements for inmates and staff. One of the primary tasks the Psychology Office focused on was ensuring that Psychological services continued throughout this crisis, no matter what.
The Psychology Office has continued to provide out of cell meetings with patients, in both general population and in restrictive housing settings, as well as modified existing Sex Offender programming so that these individuals can still progress towards becoming eligible for parole. We have also increased the frequency of rounds conducted by Psychology staff across the DOC, ON ALL HOUSING UNITS, to ensure patient access to mental health care.
At 10 p.m. on March 29, 2020, the DOC began a statewide inmate quarantine in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Demobilization of the quarantines began in May, in accordance with the DOC's demobilization plan and factors unique to each facility. Facilities move through the different levels of quarantine depending on the amount of positive cases of COVID-19 at the prison at the time.
When quarantines happen, individuals housed in those housing units cannot participate in video visitation for the duration of the lockdown.
Also, lockdowns that are unrelated to quarantine may happen due to prison-related incidents. The same is the case for medical care – there are some inmates who require hospitalization that is not related to COVID-19.
The DOC is taking new measures at its facilities to mitigate COVID-19 including:
All visitation was suspended effective March 13, 2020.
- Attorneys and select members of the PA Prison Society are permitted access if they pass the enhanced screening.
- Authorized visitors and inmates can participate in a new video visitation program that allows visitors to participate from home.
All inmates will receive one free 15-minute phone calls.
Each inmate will be permitted (without cost) to mail 12, one-ounce first class letters per month.
Activities departments have increased activity opportunities.
- Commissary caps have increased from $70 per week to $100 per week.
All inmates are being screened coming in and going out.
All new inmates are being screened before being admitted into prison. We are not releasing any inmates without screening for symptoms.
- Inmates who have flu-like symptoms from counties will not be accepted. All inmates leaving our facilities (parolees, max outs, movements, etc.) will be screened.
- Medical co-pays have been waived for any inmate with influenza like illness (ILI).
- Inmates have been provided with disposable masks and are strongly encouraged to utilize them.
being provided materials to clean their cell daily. Materials will be provided to them on a daily basis.
- Each facility is conducting enhanced screening for all individuals entering a facility. No one will be permitted to enter a facility who has a fever over 100 degrees or exhibits signs of cold or flu.
Masks are required for all staff and institutions have provided each staff member with a cloth mask for use. Employees are permitted to provide their own mask similar to the ones the facility is handing out.
Daily updates are emailed to ALL staff to mitigate rumors and provide up-to-date information.
- Personal Protection Equipment is provided to all staff. Masks are being manufactured by Correctional Industries. All CDC and DOH protocols are being followed in reference to masking.
- Institutions are holding town hall meetings with their inmate population to review sanitation guidelines and COVID-19 information for awareness. These meetings are conducted with institutions safety manager and infectious control nurse. Inmates are being educated on prevention/ mitigation efforts.
- Sanitation has increased all throughout the SCI, including housing units and cells.
Provided all staff with a vehicle sanitation plan explaining how to clean all vehicles.
- Correctional Industries increased production of anti-bacterial soap to ensure all inmates and staff have sufficient supply throughout the institution. Soap is provided free of charge to inmates.
- Directed all equipment (radios, OC, etc.) to be cleaned after each shift and throughout the day.
- Every SCI has plans in place for quarantine if an inmate tests positive.
- SCI Laurel Highlands and SCI Waymart will not be accepting new inmates. This has been expanded to include SCI-Fayette, which houses oncology.
- Parole violators should be returned to only 3 pre-determined SCIs.
- Institutions will continue food services, groups, religious services, and activities. We will evaluate each institution on a case-by-case basis on whether this needs to change.
- All SCIs identified vulnerable population to keep them isolated.
- Monitoring sick-call and staff health and advising employees to stay home if they are sick.
- Postponing audits, inspections and reentry job fairs that were scheduled for March and April.
- All training at the DOC Training Academy—outside of basic training and the inmate culinary academy—has ceased as of March 16.
- Pennsylvania Correctional Industries is increasing manufacturing capabilities.
- PCI is manufacturing anti-bacterial soap and masks.
- All gyms and barber shops/cosmetology are closed until further notice.
- The general libraries will be closed for inmates, but they can request books and have books delivered to them. The legal libraries will remain open as normal. Legal libraries will be prioritized based on most critical need.
- All parole hearings will continue as scheduled and follow the existing process.
- Bureau of Community Corrections is furloughing eligible reentrants.
- Community Corrections has implemented additional sanitation efforts.
- Community Corrections staff and reentrants are undergoing enhanced screening.
- Field agents have increased contacts via technology.
- Agents are equipped with PPE to use if necessary.
New measures will be enacted when the need arises and as the situation develops. For the most accurate and up-to-date information on COVID-19 in Pennsylvania,
follow the PA Department of Health.