A reduced inmate population and precautionary measures are helping Westmoreland County Prison steer clear of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Prison warden John Walton told the county’s prison board Monday that the prison’s population was down to 519, a reduction of more than 40 within the past week.

Walton said part of the prison’s population drop has been the result of inmates being transferred to state prisons, noting 11 inmates had been sent to SCI Greene on Monday. Other inmates had been sent from the Hempfield Township facility to inpatient drug rehabilitation programs based on court orders, he noted.

Amid coronavirus concerns, inmates being transferred to state prisons have their temperatures checked before leaving Westmoreland County Prison, again by the county sheriff’s department prior to leaving for their destination, and again when they arrive at the state prison.

“If anyone fails on the van, they will return the whole van to us, not just that individual,” Walton said.

Prison officials have also stepped up precautions within the Westmoreland County Prison to attempt to ward off the virus.

Handwashing stations have been made available on all units and the prison has encouraged inmates to wash their hands as frequently as possible, Walton said. There are also additional hand sanitizer stations distributed throughout the facility for corrections officers and staff.

“We’ve provided additional literature to inmates regarding hand washing, distancing and this is also placed in our inmate handbook,” Walton said.

In response to coronavirus concerns shutting down in-person visitation at the Hempfield Township facility, the prison has offered inmates alternatives for staying in touch.

“Inmates are getting one free, 10-minute video visit because we canceled visits,” Walton said. “For those that aren’t eligible for video visits, they’re getting phone calls and envelopes so they can keep in touch with their families.”

The prison has had to step up its screening measures for those entering the facility to try to avoid the COVID-19 virus from affecting those inside. Walton said new inmates are checked using no-touch infrared thermometers and a coronavirus checklist, with anyone else entering the prison, including staff, vendors and visitors also being screened the same way.

Walton added that the prison is being cleaned at least four times a day, and all radios, phones, tablet computers and door handles are being frequently sanitized.

Quarantine time for new inmates has also been increased, Walton said. New inmates had been quarantined for 48 hours previously. Now, new inmates are quarantined for five days.

“We’ve opened up some bunks we have available so we can look at these people to see if they’re getting any symptoms or a temperature, so forth,” Walton said. “Then after five days, if (they’re) not, we’re able to place them up in the population. We’re trying to limit exposure so if someone would have caught it and doesn’t have any symptoms, we now have five days we’re able to look at those people before we move them into the population.”

As part of his monthly update, Walton told the board just 22% of the 377 new inmates entering the prison in February needed detoxification services.

Walton said bids were received and forwarded to the county commissioners for the kitchen floor project, building cleaning and trash removal. The commissioners are expected to vote on the bids at their meeting Thursday.

In other business Monday, the prison board approved:

  • Accepting the resignation of full-time corrections officer Ron Algieri, effective Feb. 26;
  • Accepting the resignation of full-time corrections officer James Bryan, effective April 18;
  • Hiring full-time corrections officer Robert Fagan to an open sergeant position, effective March 31;
  • The transfer of temporary employee Georgia Anthony from a position at Westmoreland Manor to an open clerk-typist position at the prison, effective March 31.

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