PHILADELPHIA - On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) continued its near-total lockdown of state prisons, confining most people in the department’s facilities to their cells 24 hours per day and prohibiting mail and visitation. According to the DOC, some facilities had some restrictions lifted over the weekend, and more facilities will lift restrictions throughout this week.
As the lockdown entered its seventh day, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania responded to the ongoing situation. The following can be attributed to Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania:
“The continuing lockdown at the Department of Corrections is gravely serious. We share the department’s concern about the health of the staff. The health of the people who are incarcerated is also of utmost priority.
“Unfortunately, the DOC has failed to provide meaningful transparency in this situation, leaving loved ones of people who are incarcerated uninformed and anxious about what is happening. And the public statements on the DOC’s own website talk only about the health of staff, with no mention of how many prisoners have become ill. If staff have been ill, it’s reasonable to conclude that prisoners have been sick, too, although the lack of information makes that impossible to confirm. Either way, the department has left prisoners’ families and the public in the dark on the health of the people who are incarcerated.
“The DOC should immediately provide public information about how many prisoners, if any, have become ill and how families can check on the status of their loved ones.
“The department must also reinstate mail and visitation privileges as soon as possible, as mail and visitation are constitutionally protected rights for people who are incarcerated.
“In a radio interview today, Secretary Wetzel stated that facilities will be back to normal operations by next week if there are no more illnesses. If there are more illnesses, he simply stated that the department will ‘revisit’ the situation. That response is inadequate. We do not accept the notion that the DOC can hold prisoners in their cells 24 hours per day, stop mail, and end visitations and phone calls in every state facility every time a staff person becomes ill. The health of the DOC staff is certainly critical, as is the health and well-being of prisoners. A statewide lockdown is a heavy-handed response that is detrimental to the long-term health of people who are incarcerated.
“The ACLU of Pennsylvania will continue to monitor this situation.”