Aquil Starks, Howard University News Service
The Covid-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on vaccination attempts being done by the Philadelphia Department of Prisons (PDP). This spotlight was shone at a Joint Committee meeting of the Philadelphia City Council on March 17 as they questioned the testing efforts of the prison department, as well as Covid-19 positivity rates in the prisons.
Philadelphia Department of Prisons releases a daily census of positivity rates and mortalities. There’s about 1,136 adult males in the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center (PICC) with Covid-19 according to the Department of Public Health’s website. In addition, there’s 32 juvenile males in Riverside Correctional Facility (RCF) with Covid-19. Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility (CFCF) has the highest positivity rates in the PDP system with 2,326 male prisoners with Covid-19.
Sergeant David Robinson, correctional staff of State Road, upbraided the PDP, stating, “It’s basically modern-day slavery.”
“The prison system is recycling masks when it comes to inmate populations…I’m giving one inmate a mask another mask that had probably four of five days prior,” Robinson said.
Robinson made it very clear that staff are barely given masks, that he himself donated about 1200 masks to the staff-inmate population. Robinson repeatedly says he feels “forgotten”, including the men and women alike who work as correctional officers in his sentiment.
“People are running away from their job, scared of the repercussions of losing their job,” Robinson continued.
Robinson challenges the City Council to walk a mile in correctional officers’ shoes. Chairman Bell asserts his colleagues and himself in response to Robinson, saying, “Challenge accepted, we’re coming.”
Correctional staff members are denouncing the Philadelphia Department of Prisons, due to their lack of care in their opinion when it comes to paid wages, and Covid restriction guidelines.
Prisons Commissioner Blanche Carney told the Department of Public Safety, Public Health and Human Services committee about the PDP Covid restrictions.
“The PDP continues to work closely with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health…the PDP has distributed 104,992 cloth masks to staff in the inmate population”
The Commissioner continues her statement saying that there are 228 lexon partitions that have been readily available in public areas within the prisons. Carney also listed the testing percentages for infection rates.
“Testing revealed a 1.2 percent infection rate for staff and 6 percent rate for inmates,” Commissioner Carney said.
Bruce Herdman, Chief of Medical Operations Medical Operations, came to the defense for Commissioner Carney. He gave the reports of inmates and staff members who were infected with the virus. He also told Councilmembers that all of the information can be found of the Department of Public Health website, which is updated daily.
“Two hundred and seventy five symptomatic as of yesterday and 1027 asymptomatic and that’s for all the people who’ve been in the prison since the beginning of the pandemic,” Herdman said.
When Herdman was questioned on how many staff members were being vaccinated, to which he said, “882 staff as of this morning had received the first dose, that’s about 2400 staff.”
When asked about the timeline of the vaccinations trials to be given to staff, and if would be mandatory or not; Commissioner Carney has said that staff vaccinations are voluntary. She hopes to complete the vaccination by July 2021.