During the pandemic, no employees at the facility have tested positive for the virus. As of June 2, the correctional facility didn’t have a single case of COVID-19 and county Commissioner Michael Pipe credits the quick response of administration and staff as the reasons.
“The thing that we remind them of, as a prison board, is that we could have another positive case tomorrow. That sort of mentality and the steps they take today — the masking, the hygiene that they do in the facility and the things they do outside of the facility to keep themselves and their families safe, helps us to have a safe facility.”
Since March 13, along with the six inmates who tested positive for COVID-19, 16 inmates tested negative and 13 employees tested negative. As of June 2, CCCF also had no COVID-19 tests pending.
Nationwide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, correctional and detention facilities face challenges in controlling the spread of infectious diseases because of crowded, shared environments and potential introductions by staff members and new intakes.
“As we ease restrictions and more cases are being heard by the court, we may see more cases (of coronavirus) at the correctional facility.”
Centre County Commissioner Chairman
Among 37 jurisdictions reporting, 32 (86 percent) reported at least one confirmed COVID-19 case among incarcerated or detained persons or staff members, across 420 correctional and detention facilities.
As of April 21, 4,893 cases and 88 deaths among incarcerated and detained persons and 2,778 cases and 15 deaths among staff members have been reported.
CCCF introduced COVID-19 pandemic protocol policies on March 13 that include increased disinfection sweeps, a no-visitation policy, suspension of work-release programs and adherence to strict screening protocols for staff and incarcerated individuals.
Routine temperature checks and universal masking are also in place.
Pipe said early on during the pandemic, in March, CCCF employees received extra training from health care providers at the facility, which may have helped limit the spread of the virus.
“They provided education on how respiratory viruses spread in correctional facilities, so we were able to give specific education to them” said Pipe.
“They really impressed upon us that in these types of facilities, things can spread rapidly.
Pipe said one of the recommendations from the CDC and other medical entities was releasing individuals early who were a high risk in terms of vulnerability to the virus who did not pose a great risk to the community.
As of June 1, the inmate population at the CCCF was 129, which is a 107-inmate decrease from March 13.
Some of that can be attributed to stay-at-home orders that limit the number of people on the streets committing crimes, said Pipe.
Some of this is also due to other counties (Bedford, Clearfield, Dauphin, Elk, Huntingdon, Schuylkill and Tioga) that use CCCF having decreased their number of individuals.
From March 23 to April 23, 97 inmates were released from CCCF, 67 of them due to COVID-19 protocol. Of those 97 inmates released, 52 were from Centre County and 46 of them were due to COVID-19 protocol.
As the pandemic continued, fewer inmates were released. From March 24 to May 23, a total of 60 inmates (25 from Centre County) were released from the facility and 17 (nine from Centre County) were related to COVID-19 protocol.
Pipe said each person released follows a probation/ parole plan that is tailored to the individual, and that determines the level of supervision by the county probation department.
“Every individual that is released from the facility with a probation and parole plan is different. They are uniquely tailored to that individual,” said Pipe.
And while there was risk that individuals released early could potentially reoffend and re-enter the system, Pipe said, “we are weighing the risk of spreading a virus in the facility and that.”
None of the inmates released from CCCF since, as far back as January, have returned to the facility.
Pipe said CCCF will continue to take safety measures as the pandemic continues and as courts reopen.
“As restrictions are eased in the green phase, the potential for crime increases; as people leave their homes, I believe there is more of a likelihood of potential crimes being committed,” said Pipe.
“So as we ease restrictions and more cases are being heard by the court, we may see more cases (of coronavirus) at the correctional facility. So we are aware of that and as we go forward, the same guidance will be in place.”