HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania's state corrections officers' union wants the state prison system to stop all transfers of inmates as a preventative measure against potential spread of the new coronavirus from one institution to another.
Larry Blackwell, the president of the 11,000-member corrections officers' union, said Tuesday that moving inmates between prisons risks unnecessarily spreading the virus to an institution, where it will be very difficult to stop it from spreading to other inmates and employees.
“The governor has called for all non-essential movement to halt, and this isn’t essential,” Blackwell said. “And the governor has the authority to shut down the movement of these prisoners. The counties, the state, let’s just freeze everything until we figure out what’s going on.”
No case of the coronavirus has been discovered in the state prison system where roughly 45,000 inmates are housed and 16,000 people work, prison and union officials say.
The Department of Corrections has shut down some routine transfers between prisons, according to prison and union officials.
But the department is emptying Retreat state prison in northeastern Pennsylvania of hundreds of inmates by transferring them to other prisons, and it announced Monday that it will use Retreat as the reception facility for new male commitments from county jails and for male parole violators.
Other prisons, previously, had been used as reception facilities. Retreat, ultimately, is slated to be closed.
At the federal level, some members of Congress are calling for the Bureau of Prisons to stop transferring prisoners between institutions, at least until the inmates have been tested for the coronavirus.