Reform advocates want more protections for prisoners during coronavirus pandemic

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Three groups have reached out to federal, state, county prison facilities and detention centers demanding more protections for those who are incarcerated in Pennsylvania during the coronavirus outbreak.

"We have not had any reports of people contracting coronavirus while inside, but we have had calls from people who are concerned," said Su Ming Yeh, who runs the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project.

Her organization joined the ACLU of Pennsylvania and FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums) in a letter to jails and prisons urging transparency in the use of protocols used to protect prisoners during the coronavirus pandemic.

"The people who are incarcerated and institutionalized, many of them are medically vulnerable ... and we have high concerns about their health and safety and how they are treated during this unusual time," she said.

On March 13, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections suspended all visits to inmates for at least two weeks. They've also canceled training and prison buses for March and April, and postponed inspections and audits, among other measures. 

The DOC has also implemented screening protocols for staff and is working to provide increased access to soap. 

Yeh says they are monitoring to ensure inmates do not lose access to the outside world.

"Individuals should have easy and maybe even free access to phone calls, being able to call your lawyer, being able to call your family," she said.

Jails and federal prisons in Bucks County have also suspended visits for the time being.