Today, we shared the results of the first survey of people incarcerated in Pennsylvania state prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic, offering a first-hand assessment of how well the PA Department of Corrections is performing its duty to protect people in custody from the coronavirus.
In short, we found that while state prisons are doing a lot of the things they said they would, they still have work to do. More than 300 people in custody completed the survey between April and September, providing feedback on how well the prisons have implemented CDC guidelines to reduce the risk of COVID-19. Here’s what they told us:
It’s critically important that prisons follow COVID-19 guidelines, because, as we know, incarcerated people are especially vulnerable to the disease. They die from it at three times the rate of the general population, and become infected more than five times as often. In Pennsylvania’s state prisons alone, over 1,000 people who live or work there have become infected, and 12 have died. Prison outbreaks also fuel viral spread in the surrounding community, so preventing them is not just a matter of protecting the people who live and work there — it’s a matter of public health.
The Prison Society shared the survey results with the Department of Corrections, but the Department declined to comment or let us know what they would do to address the issues the survey uncovered. They also declined to help us distribute future surveys to the entire state prison population, which would have given an even more complete picture of how the system and individual prisons are performing.
The recent outbreaks in SCI Mercer and SCI Camp Hill underscore that the coronavirus threat has not faded. With or without the DOC’s cooperation, we will continue to survey people in custody to illuminate conditions on the inside. Once again, the Prison Society calls on the Department of Corrections to address shortcomings observed by people in custody and redouble its efforts to:
In addition, there is more that can be done to protect people who live and work in prisons. The Prison Society urges the State to:
The complete analysis of the survey results is available on our website: https://www.prisonsociety.org/reports-fact-sheets.