Can an Inmate File for Parole in Pennsylvania Due to COVID-19 / the Coronavirus?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Mar 25, 2020 | 0 Comments

Parole interviews/reviews and parole violation hearings are still being held for inmates/parolees in Pennsylvania state correctional facilities. However, as Monday, March 23rd, all parole hearings at county correctional facilities are cancelled (for example, this would impact Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery County).

Parole applications can still be filed on behalf of inmates/parolees.  Petitions are being processed in the order in which they are received.

The Pennsylvania Parole Board makes the following claims which may be well-intended, but considering the precarious situation many inmates find themselves because of the ongoing risks associated with COVID-19 / the Coronavirus, protecting an inmate's health and welfare by seeking parole during this challenging time may be a necessary step for the family and loved ones of inmates in state correctional facilities throughout Pennsylvania.

For example, the Pennsylvania Parole Board claims to recognize the COVID19 pandemic has created anxiety for the family and friends of incarcerated individuals. The Parole Board claims to understand these concerns and professes sympathy with all those involved. The Parole Board claims to be working closely with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to make certain all health, safety and security needs of incarcerated individuals are a priority. The Parole Board claims that it will continue to take all steps necessary to keep essential functions within the parole process in operation. In what may be the most forthright statement from the Parole Board, the Parole Board has stated that because the Board is performing under limited operations and office closures, delays in production of Board Actions is expected.

The hope and goal if a parole petition were to be filed, an inmate can be home with family and out of harm's way, but in the meantime, the following questions may be helpful to people with questions about what the Pennsylvania Department of Prisons is doing to address the current health crisis.

COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) from the Pennsylvania Department of Prisons

What precautions has the Department of Prisons (PDP) put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID19 inside of the facilities?

The PDP's standing operating procedure is to process newly admitted inmates into the system by placing them in quarantine for a five day period to assess for routine and communicable diseases.  Quarantine is standard language used to identify newly admitted inmates that must be kept separate from the general population until medically cleared.  Since COVID-19, the PDP has extended the quarantine period from 5 days to 14 days to assess for COVID-19 related symptoms based on the guidelines from the CDC and the Philadelphia Health Department.  

Any inmate exhibiting symptoms or self-reporting exposure are removed from the standard intake quarantine area and housed separately at another facility on campus for presumed or possible confirmed cases.  

Further, new admissions are separated into “cohorts” and cohorts are kept separate from each other to limit exposure if an infected inmate is admitted unknowingly. 

Inmates in the intake quarantine area are issued masks when they must leave the housing area for medical services or official visits.

Staff assigned to intake quarantine area are issued personal protective equipment (gloves, masks).

The frequency of thorough sanitation of all spaces inside of the facilities and administrative offices has been increased, with housing units being cleaned continuously every three hours. 

Sanitizing stations exist throughout all facilities and are refilled frequently. Sanitizing soap must be at least 60% alcohol. 

PSA's and signage which demonstrate proper hand washing technique and social distancing are being shown on all housing units. A COVID-19 PSA FAQs is also being shown on PDP-TV.  Posters promoting regular hand washing and social distancing have been mounted throughout all facilities. 

Special housing units have been prepared should PDP need to separate infected inmates. Procedures are in place for immediate review of any suspected cases with the Philadelphia Department of Health disease control specialists. 

What happens if a case of COVID-19 is suspected in an inmate? 

All suspected cases will be reviewed with the PDP's Infectious Disease specialist and with Philadelphia Department of Public Heath (PDPH) Disease control specialists. The medical intake screening process, in addition to including vigilant surveillance for virus symptoms, includes CDC-recommended questions to help identify inmates at particular risk of exposure prior to incarceration. 

How are staff and inmates being protected from exposure to COVID-19? 

The PDP has instituted routine symptom screening measures for COVID-19 at each point of entry into every facility.  

Before entry, every employee/vendor/attorney/etc. will be screened at each point of entry, every time he/she enters a PDP facility. When entering a PDP facility, employees will be asked to tell medical personnel if they have a fever, dry cough or shortness of breath- the significant symptoms of COVID-19.

Medical personnel will also check each employee's temperature. No physical contact is needed to check temperatures. If an employee is symptomatic, they will be sent home and instructed to contact their health care provider immediately. 

Attorneys will not be permitted entry if they are symptomatic. The Chief Defender will be notified to instruct their staff accordingly.  Non-PDP City staff will not be permitted entry if they are symptomatic and will be referred to their respective Department Head.

Medical staff will be screening at each facility 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through this emergency. 

Would the PDP communicate to friends and family if there was a disturbance during visiting suspension? 

If a significant event inside an institution impacted current operations, the PDP would issue a press release, which is standard procedure. 

How can I contact my loved one if I can't visit? 

Since civilian visits have been canceled, we are now providing additional free phone call minutes for all inmates. You may also write to your loved one in care of the holding facility. The PDP does not have video call capability. 

How will programing and services be affected by this crisis? 

Official visits with attorneys will proceed as normal. Inmates will be provided with a mask for official visits, bail reviews, and any court related hearings.

Early bail reviews and related Court services are occurring as usual, except that no more than five inmates are in the designated area awaiting virtual court hearings at a given time, to ensure social distancing.

Bail services have not been interrupted. 

PDP medical, psychological, social services, food and security services are being provided as usual. 

Volunteer services and religious services have been suspended. PDP Chaplains of all denominations will be recording religious services to be broadcast on PDPTV to the inmate population and will continue providing religious counsel on a 1 to 1 basis.

Pennsylvania Attorney to File Parole Petition Due to COVID-19 / the Coronavirus

When a family member or loved one is in jail or prison, it is obviously a challenging time for all involved.   What is a challenging time under the best of circumstances is even more concerning due to the current health crisis and LLF Law Firm has helped clients statewide for many years with seeking parole. 

Having your voice heard in this challenging time is critical and the LLF Law firm can help.  Contact LLF Law Firm today at 888-535-3686.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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