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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 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 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 COVID-19 tracker.

COVID-19 Dashboard

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 eight 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.

COVID-19 Vaccine

On-site vaccination is available to the inmate population and staff at every state correctional institution in Pennsylvania. Updated inmate and staff vaccination rates are available on the COVID-19 dashboard.

Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance on COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for individuals who live or work in high-risk and congregate care settings, including prisons, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections is offering COVID-19 boosters to staff and the incarcerated population at its facilities. 

Video Visitation

In March 2020, the DOC revamped its 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. The scheduling program used for video visits is the same one facilities will use for in-person visitation.

From March 19-August 31, the DOC utilized Zoom for video visitation. During that period, DOC conducted 129,658 video visits. As of June 8, 2021, the DOC had conducted 287,087 video visits on its own system.

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:

  • 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

Mental Health

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.

Mitigation Measures

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.

Individuals housed in affected cells may not be able to participate in visitation.

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 has taken new measures at its facilities to mitigate COVID-19 including:

Inmates

  • In-person visitation was suspended effective March 13, 2020.
    • The DOC's video visitation program was revamped to allow families to participate from home. This new program is permanent and will continue indefinitely.
    • Attorneys and select members of the PA Prison Society are permitted access if they pass the enhanced screening.
    • Visitation resumed at select facilities beginning in May 2021.
    • All visitors must have their temperatures taken and be screened for COVID-19 before participating in visits. They are also required to wear masks provided by the DOC.
  • Authorized visitors and inmates can participate in the video visitation program that allows visitors to participate from home.
  • All inmates continue to receive one free 15-minute phone call.
  • Each inmate will continue to be permitted (without cost) to mail 12, one-ounce first class letters per month. This change is permanent.
  • Activities departments  continue to increase activity opportunities.
  • Commissary caps for general population inmates have increased from $70 per week to $100 per week. This change is permanent.
  • All inmates are being screened coming in and going out.
  • SCI Smithfield is now the dedicated reception site for male inmates. At Smithfield, they are screened, tested and monitored for COVID-19 before being sent throughout the system.
  • Inmates who have flu-like symptoms from counties will not be accepted. All inmates leaving facilities (parolees, max outs, movements, etc.) will continue to be screened and tested for COVID-19.
  • Inmates have been provided with disposable masks and are strongly encouraged to utilize them.
  • Inmates continue to be provided materials to clean their cell daily. Materials will be provided to them on a daily basis.

Staff

  • Each facility continues to conduct enhanced screening for all individuals entering a facility. No one will be permitted to enter a facility who has a fever more than 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.
  • Personal Protection Equipment is provided to all staff. All CDC and DOH protocols are being followed in reference to masking.

Sanitation

  • Institutions are holding town hall meetings with their inmate population to review sanitation guidelines and COVID-19 information for awareness. Inmates continue to be educated on prevention/ mitigation efforts.
  • Enhanced sanitation continues all throughout the SCI, including housing units and cells.
  • Correctional Industries continues to produce anti-bacterial soap and other products to benefit mitigation efforts. PCI has made soap, masks, towels and anti-bacterial spray to ensure all inmates and staff have sufficient supply throughout the institution.  Soap is provided free of charge to inmates.
  • Hand sanitizer will continue to be provided to staff; enhanced PPE is available upon request.
  • Directed all equipment (radios, OC, etc.) to be cleaned after each shift and throughout the day.

SCIs

  • Every SCI continues to utilize their quarantine plans for if an inmate tests positive for COVID-19
  • Institutions continue groups, religious services and activities.
  • Monitoring sick-call and staff health and advising employees to stay home if they are sick.

Parole/Field/Reentry

  • All parole hearings will continue as scheduled and follow the existing process.
  • Parole and reentry continue to follow COVID-19 procedures, however they have resumed most operations under a new normal. BCC reentrants are still isolated if they test positive for COVID-19 or experience symptoms related to COVID-19.
  • Community Corrections has implemented additional sanitation efforts.
  • Community Corrections staff and reentrants continue to undergo 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.