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In-person inmate visits set to resume at handful of state prison facilities

In-person visits begin Saturday at SCI Laurel Highlands as part of a phased-in approach to the resumption of visits statewide, the state Dept. of Corrections said.
Credit: WPMT

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections announced Wednesday that in-person inmate visitations will resume in a phased-in basis, beginning with SCI Laurel Highlands on Saturday.

In-person visits will resume at four other facilities in the coming weeks and at the remaining state facilities to follow, DOC Secretary John Wetzel said.

On-site visits were suspended on March 13, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to SCI Laurel Highlands, which will resume in-person visits on Saturday, in-person visitation will first resume at:

  • SCI Waymart on May 27
  • SCI Muncy on May 30
  • SCI Cambridge Springs on May 31
  • Quehanna Boot Camp on June 3

The DOC did not say when in-person visits will resume at other state facilities, including SCI Camp Hill.

Decisions regarding the reinstatement of in-person visits at each location are based on inmate vaccination rates, percentage of COVID-19 cases among the inmate population, and results from the DOC’s wastewater testing program that monitors for elevated levels of the COVID-19 virus, Wetzel said.

“Our mission is to reinstate in-person visits while not significantly increasing the number of infections within our facilities,” said Wetzel. “Reintegrating visitation in a methodical, staggered manner – along with enhanced safety measures -- allows the DOC to monitor wastewater testing results and use objective data to ensure facilities have continued success managing COVID-19.”

To comply with ongoing COVID-19 mitigation requirements, visits must now be scheduled online at least three days in advance. Wetzel stressed that initial demand will be high, and available timeslots will be limited. 

No-cost video visits remain an option for people to connect with incarcerated loved ones, Wetzel added.

The Pennsylvania DOC has facilitated 361,000 video visits between incarcerated individuals and their families and friends since March 2020.

Information on scheduling an in-person or video visit and the reopening of DOC facilities is available at cor.pa.gov.

Available visitation timeslots are determined by each facility, based on an inmate’s housing location within the prison, Wetzel said. Each visit will be at least one hour in duration.

Established visiting rules remain in effect. Additionally, visitors will be required to complete a COVID questionnaire and temperature screening. 

All inmates and visitors ages 2 and older will be issued a disposable facemask, which must be worn for the duration of the visit. Visiting rooms will be configured in a way that allows for social distancing between each visiting group. Visits can be cancelled by the facility if the rules are not followed.

“COVID-19 remains a significant threat, particularly in congregate settings like prisons,” said Wetzel. “By design, our mitigation efforts are stronger than what may be in place in the general public because it is critically important to keep COVID out of our facilities to the greatest extent possible.”

As visitation ramps up within state correctional institutions, the DOC Bureau of Community Corrections and Parole Field Services will also move to less restrictive COVID-19 mitigation requirements.

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