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Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections pauses new prisoner intakes while preparing new reception facility

Starting Saturday, new male commitments and parole violators will be temporarily housed at SCI Retreat in Luzerne County before moving to SCI Camp Hill
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LUZERNE COUNTY, Pa. — Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel announced Monday that the State Correctional Institution at Retreat in Luzerne County will be used as the reception facility for new male inmates and male parole violators beginning March 28.

The temporary move is an attempt to delay the spread of COVID-19 to the state prison system, Wetzel said Monday in a press release.

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

Following an intake quarantine period at SCI Retreat, which is located about 12 miles south of Wilkes-Barre, the new commitments will be sent to SCI Camp Hill for classification and evaluation, Wetzel said.

In preparation for this major change, Wetzel sent a letter Monday to all county prisons informing them that the DOC is pausing new commitments for several days. 

He also informed sheriffs through a conference call.

While new commitments and parole violation returns are delayed, DOC officials will take the opportunity to reduce the inmate population at SCI Retreat by transferring inmates to other state prisons, while leaving a number of inmates to work in dietary and maintenance areas. 

Officials also are increasing the medical staff and medical supplies at this facility, according to Wetzel.

Wetzel said the DOC receives approximately 150 new male commitments and parole violator returns statewide each week.

RELATED: Department of Health Provides Update on COVID-19: 165 New Positives, Bringing Statewide Total to 644

“We are doing all we can to mitigate the impact this virus will have on our system,” Wetzel said. “All ideas are being considered.”

Wetzel said that the overarching goal is to safely and responsibly reduce the prison system’s population while minimizing the risk that new commitments present by localizing their commitment at a site that will be set up to quarantine by commitment cohorts, with staff equipped in personal protective equipment.

Female new commitments will continue to be received at SCIs Muncy and Cambridge Springs. 

However, moving forward, Muncy only will accept new commitments weekly on Tuesday and Thursday, Wetzel said.

Additional steps being introduced to reduce the DOC’s inmate population include: 

  • Working with the parole board to maximize 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
  • Reducing the number of reentrants in halfway houses
  • Giving each inmate released a medical screening and referring to doctors when appropriate

Find the latest information on the DOC’s COVID-19 efforts here.