John Wetzel

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) has extended the suspension of all visits to state prison inmates and the enhanced screening of all prison employees through April 10, it said.

The DOC initially suspended all visits and began enhanced screening of its employees on March 13. The extension of those measures was put in place as a result of the call by Gov. Tom Wolf and Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine to continue taking steps to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“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,” DOC Secretary John Wetzel said Wednesday evening. “We believe that limiting who enters our prisons has been a good protocol to put in place.”

The DOC says it has implemented video visitation and is providing inmates with more free phone calls and emails to offset the lack of in-person visits. Wetzel said on Wednesday that the department is taking the “necessary steps” to protect the health of inmates and employees.

On Monday, the DOC announced that, beginning Saturday, it will use SCI-Retreat near Wilkes-Barre as its only intake point for new male inmates and parole violators, a move designed to keep coronavirus from entering the state prison system for as long as possible. New male inmates and parole violators will now undergo an intake quarantine period at SCI-Retreat, then be sent to SCI-Camp Hill near Harrisburg for classification and evaluation.

“This change in how we receive newly sentenced inmates and parole violators will reduce the number of ways individuals enter our system,” Wetzel said then. “With this plan, moving forward, only one facility will be involved, greatly reducing the ways the virus can enter our system.”

Mark Pesto is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkPesto.

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