Although no COVID-19 cases have been reported from the Lebanon County Correctional Facility (LCCF), one former inmate, Matt Keller, 26, of Annville, claims the protocol to protect the prisoners from the virus is not what it should be.
Thomas Weber, CEO of PrimeCare Medical Inc., the medical provider for LCCF and several other prisons throughout the Commonwealth, disagree.
“We can’t guarantee that COVID-19 won’t get into the prison, but we are taking steps to do what we can,” Weber said. “We are implementing more changes.”
In February, the pandemic policy formulated by CDC guidelines was distributed to inmates, Weber said.
“We have developed a score card for all our sites based upon adoption of our recommendations,” Weber said. “Lebanon has a relatively high score, which means they are doing the vast majority of what we recommend.”
Keller, at the LCCF for five months, had been on work release before his discharge on March 28.
He maintained that officials at the prison are doing little in trying to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
That’s not so, according to Jamie Wolgemuth, Lebanon County Chief Clerk and Public Information Officer.
From reducing the prison population to increased cleaning, prison officials are diligently working to keep the coronavirus from entering the facility, Wolgemuth said.
Wolgemuth said he preferred not to address specific allegations by any former or current inmates, but focus on the prevention protocols for COVID-19.
To date, no inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, Wolgemuth said.
“Inmates in each housing area have been verbally addressed by our medical provider with a security supervisor present to educate the inmate population,” Wolgemuth said.
Staff are wearing masks in medical areas and during the commitment process of new inmates, Wolgemuth added.
Temperatures are taken before any security staff enter the building and new inmates are quarantined for 14 days, Weber said.
While PrimeCare staff and correctional staff are masked for safety, inmates would need to wear a mask only if they were in isolation, Weber said, and no inmates in the LCCF are currently in isolation.
“Security staff and our staff are masked all the time,” Weber said.
PrimeCare has made sure traffic inside the facility has decreased.
Rather than having general recreation, groups have been made smaller, Weber said, and instead of congregating in a mess hall type of situation, more inmates are having their meals in their cells.
Keller disagreed with Weber’s assertion that inmates eat in their cells; he maintains they do not.
PrimeCare has also decentralized medical care, Weber said. If a patient needs to be medically checked for any reason, instead of the patient walking to the infirmary, one of PrimeCare’s medical team will visit the inmate in his cell.
To control the spread of the virus, visitation has been cancelled for now. This was a recommendation of the state Department of Corrections.
“The county has also limited the number of new intakes,” Weber said.
County Commissioner Chairman Bob Phillips, a member of the county prison board, said the inmate population is usually in the mid-500s, but has significantly decreased.
“The last number I saw was 323 and I believe that’s a historical low for this era,” Phillips said.
Roughly 100 inmates have been released in the last month; those who were close to the end of their sentence, had been on work release, or had health issues, according to Lebanon County President Judge John Tylwalk, as quoted in the Lebanon Daily News.
“Recent population numbers are nowhere near capacity and have been declining due to alternative sentencing efforts by the courts,” Wolgemuth said.
Incarceration numbers are also down, due to reduced human activity that is a result of COVID-19, Wolgemuth said.
The average population at the prison decreased from 452 inmates in January to 323 inmates at the time of publishing, according to Wolgemuth. The prison’s maximum capacity is 620.
Incoming inmates and staff routinely have their temperatures checked and are questioned about any symptoms, Phillips said.
“We’re doing as much as we can for the inmates,” Phillips said.
Social distancing of six feet between each person isn’t even possible, Keller said.
In the area called “six block upper,” there are eight bunks in each room, and in “outmate upper,” there are 12 beds in each room, Keller said.
“We were extremely crowded,” Keller said. “There’s no way to do social distancing, not even a little bit. It’s too crowded.”
The bunks are about three feet apart, Keller said.
“Social distancing is being accomplished to the extent that human behavior allows,” Wolgemuth said. “The jail is not in an overcrowded or even crowded state at this time.”
Despite earlier reports that the prison had stepped up its cleaning practices to prevent the introduction of the virus, Keller said that isn’t true.
“I know people on detail,” Keller said. “They are not doing anything different or cleaning anything differently.”
Keller was not satisfied with hand-washing protocol and was concerned that no inmates were getting their temperatures checked, he said.
But Weber said if inmates display any symptoms, they have their temperatures checked twice daily, and regardless of noticeable symptoms, every inmate has a temperature check twice a week.
Regarding proper hand washing, Keller said the CDC website with instructions for hand washing calls for actual soap, hand sanitizer, and paper towels.
“There is no hand sanitizer and there are no paper towels,” Keller said. “You dry your hands on your shirt or a shower towel. You have to keep one hand on the faucet to keep [water] running,” Keller said.
Wolgemuth and Phillips disagreed with Keller’s assessment of the hand-washing protocol.
“Each inmate has his or her own bar of soap and there is no sharing of soap,” Phillips said.
Inmates at LCCF have been issued their own bars of antibacterial soap, Wolgemuth said.
Additionally, a more “robust” cleaning schedule was implemented in the prison about a month ago, Wolgemuth said.
The cleaning regimen includes the spray application of a commercially- available anti-viral solution to surfaces throughout the facility.
“As the medical provider, PrimeCare is leading the charge and we’re following the guidelines and ensuring we do everything to keep both populations safe,” Phillips said. “We want to keep the staff and the inmates safe.”
Is there a story you think LebTown should report? Let our newsroom know using the form below.
Help us provide journalism Lebanon County needs.
If you are thankful for LebTown, consider joining as a member. Members get an inside look at our publishing schedule each week, plus invites to a members-only Facebook group and happy hours.
Learn more and join now here.
Subscribe to our newsletter for updates each weekday at 3 p.m.
Updated 9:52 a.m.: A paragraph from this article is under review. We will update once we receive are able to clarify what happened here.
Update 10:50 a.m.: We have added back the paragraph above quoting Judge Tylwalk. Due to an editing oversight by LebTown, this quote was initially misattributed and used without attribution. We sincerely regret the error.