Prison officials in Philadelphia announced Monday that while COVID-19 cases are down, supplies are in high demand for both staff and inmates.
After an original meeting in December 2020, the City Council reconvened to review new statistics and information regarding the issue of COVID-19 in Philadelphia prisons.
Blanche Carney, Commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Prisons was the first to testify before the resolution, who was accompanied by deputy commissioners and other members of her staff. According to Carney, staff must wear masks at all times, as well as all inmates when they are outside their cells within the prisons. Inmates also are given fresh masks every week with new linens, said Carney.
To date, Commissioner Carney said the Philadelphia Department of Prisons have distributed 104,992 cloth masks to both staff and inmates alike to help curb the spread of the virus within the institutions.
As of February 2021, Carney said there was a steady infection rate of 6%, allowing inmates to have 3 hours outside their cells per day.
According to Sergeant David Robinson, masks are in prisons, but new masks are hard to come by, saying a number of masks are being “recycled” from inmate to inmate.
“When I say recycling, if I have a mask, and it’s that Wednesday and that mask needs to be exchanged, I’m giving that inmate a mask that another inmate had probably, four or five days prior,” Sgt. Robinson said.
This recycling of masks increases risk of infection for prisoners held without proper safety equipment.
By re-using masks, inmates run the risk of getting one used by another inmate who may have been in close contact with someone infected with COVID-19.
This distribution of safety equipment does not extend to protection for those that go into prisons that are not staff or inmates, such as lawyers from the Defender Association of Philadelphia.
Top defender Keir Bradford-Grey said she was upset by the amount of time her defenders spend inside prisons without adequate safety measures. She said while she continues to help clients, she worries about their health and safety inside the jails and prisons she visits.
“One of the things we have on our plates in terms of being prepared, is we have to spend a considerable amount of time in those prisons, talking to people.” Bradford-Grey said. “Not only were we using virtual, we are using in-prison opportunities.”
After petitioning many times for assistance in the matter, Bradford-Grey says defenders still are not treated as essential despite their work in the same system.