Pa. DOC recognizes staff members for adapting to restrictions

"Their work was instrumental in improving the atmosphere in our facilities during these unsettling times," an official said

By Paul Vigna

PHILADELPHIA — The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) officials last week recognized education, barber/cosmetology, library, activities and religious employees and thanked them for the adjustments they’ve made this year to keep programs going.

“It would have been easy to close everything down to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but thanks to the creativity and hard work of our staff, I’m proud to say we continued to provide education, activities and religious programming,” DOC Secretary John Wetzel said in a press release. “Programs to stimulate the mind and provide spiritual guidance were more important than ever this year, and our outstanding teachers, librarians, chaplains and activity staff were able to find a way to get it done.”

COVID-19 forced these employees to get more creative than ever before as inmate movement was limited to contain the spread of the virus, the release said, adding that rather than hosting the inmates in classrooms, gyms, chapels or libraries, staff members found ways to bring the programming to them.

DOC leadership recognized these key staff members in various ways including recognition banners, letters, emails, cakes, cookies and pizza, facility newsletter articles, gift cards, handwritten thank-you notes and specially designated parking spaces.

“Whether it’s simply delivering a library book to an inmate or being a spiritual mentor during this challenging year, the work of these employees cannot be overstated,” Wetzel said. “Their work was instrumental in improving the atmosphere in our facilities during these unsettling times.”

The DOC’s education department includes counselors, principals and teachers who prepare inmates for reentry through educational or vocational courses, including barber and cosmetology programs. These programs are available year-round and assist in helping the inmate students earn credentials that will help to make them successful upon reentry to society.

Inmates can earn their GEDs or Commonwealth Secondary Diplomas as well as many professional certifications while in DOC facilities, the release said, adding that thanks to the work of DOC educators, the GED pass rate for students in Pennsylvania state prisons was higher than those in the community.

Among some of the ways that personnel overcame the obstacles caused by COVID-19, according to the release:

  • The education department found ways to bring their curriculums to the inmates through in-cell learning. Some facilities even found ways to have a safe, virtual graduation that was featured on the inmate channels.
  • With inmates no longer able to go to the libraries, facility librarians began delivering books directly to the inmates to safely foster a love of reading while mitigating COVID-19. Some facilities even hosted reading challenges with small prizes to encourage reading.
  • Activities staff adjusted its programs, which often involve a gymnasium or large group, to things that could be done on the unit. Rather than sporting events or group activities, these staff chose puzzles, cards, board games, video games and arts and crafts instead.
  • Religious services never ceased throughout the pandemic but simply moved online. Inmates were still able to meet with chaplains and staff, and they now watched religious services on their televisions rather than visited the chapel.

DOC officials will conclude their employee recognition program this week by honoring food service, reception, inmate employment and prison administration staff, the release said.


(c)2020 The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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