Prison Population Lowest in Years Due to COVID Concerns

By Rick Hiduk

(Exclusive to readers)

At the first Wyoming County Prison Board meeting in two months and the first one to be conducted via teleconferencing, warden Ken Repsher reported that there only 35 inmates – 33 males and 2 females – are currently in the prison system. One is boarded out for security reasons. That’s a 38 percent reduction since February when there were 47 men and 11 woman at the facility in Tunkhannock.

The reduction is in part a result of Gov. Tom Wolf’s recommendations that prisons let those inmates go who were closest to their release dates in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the prison system. The process begun on March 16 was also paired with a general concern of prison administrators across the Commonwealth to keep down any chances of spreading the virus. Several of the prisoners released in Wyoming County continue to be on house arrest.

The courts have been doing a great job at alleviating the number of inmates during the crisis,” Repsher stated. There are no positive coronavirus cases among the prisoners nor the staff, he noted. “Hopefully, we will not have any of we keep doing what we’re doing.”

Current procedures include checking temperatures of inmates daily and corrections officers as they arrive for work. If the temperature of any staff member is 101 or higher, he or she will be sent home. If any prisoner has a temperature of 101 or more, their entire cell block will be shut down and quarantined for two weeks. Everyone is wearing a mask whether they have a temperature or not.

Commissioner Rick Wilbur, who was chairing the meeting, questioned the 101 degree marker, noting that CDC guidelines for work places recommend 100.7 degrees as the treshold for taking action. Repsher said that the prison is using guidelines from their contracted health care provider – PrimeCare.

New inmates are being quarantined for 14 days in one of two isolation cells, and only inmates with symptoms are being tested which, Repsher noted, is a case-by-case decision made by PrimeCare staff.

We keep the new commitments away from the current inmate population, all of whom have been here for more than two weeks,” Repsher related. “If they get it, it’s because staff has brought it in.”

Repsher complimented his staff and the courts for their combined efforts. “This is very stressful for us,” said Repsher. “I don’t know where we’d be if everybody wasn’t working together.”

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