We just released the results of a new survey of people incarcerated in Pennsylvania prisons, shedding light on their experience since COVID-19 surged exponentially behind bars last fall.
The findings add to what we learned in our first round of surveys completed in September, and document the first-hand experience of people in state custody during the explosive second wave of the pandemic. The surveys focus on the Department of Corrections’ mitigation efforts and offer an assessment of how well the Department has performed its duty to safeguard the health and well-being of people in custody.
In short, here’s what we found:
- As the pandemic worsened across Pennsylvania, concern for personal safety grew among people in prison custody. Less than a third (31%) of survey respondents reported feeling safe, down from 44% in the first survey.
- Communication matters. The more often and effectively prison officials communicate with people in custody the more they report feeling safe. Only 12% of respondents who were “very dissatisfied” with prison communication felt safe, while 100% who were “very satisfied” felt safe.
- Mask wearing by staff is inconsistent at best. Less than half of respondents (49%) reported that staff wear masks “often” or “always.”
- People in custody continue to report good compliance overall by prisons on hygiene measures and an improvement in having the ability to clean their cells.
- Access to medical care continues to be a problem. A majority of respondents (58%) report being dissatisfied with their ability to access medical care, while only 16% report being satisfied with it. Some also reported that prisons were not following a DOC policy eliminating medical co-pays for those with flu-like symptoms, discouraging people from reporting potential infections.
We are heartened that the Department of Corrections is committing to address many of these concerns. We continue to urge them to:
- Strengthen communication with incarcerated people to foster a greater sense of safety during this crisis.
- Redouble efforts to make sure that staff wear masks at all times.
- Ensure that everyone can access essential medical care in a timely manner by eliminating barriers to access like the medical co-pay and increasing investment in care.
Additionally, there are many other key initiatives that the state could and should undertake to stem the spread of COVID-19 behind bars, and by extension, the community. These steps include:
- Expand efforts to safely reduce the number of people in custody.
- Administer COVID-19 vaccinations to all people in custody and staff as soon as they become available.
- Implement weekly, rapid testing of all staff that come into contact with people in custody, until they are vaccinated.
The complete analysis of survey results is available on our website: https://www.prisonsociety.org/reports-fact-sheets.