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DoC director answers questions

The prepared question and answer paper addressed some concerns. The responses, according to Commissioner and Chair of the Courts and Corrections Committee David Harrington, were provided by Director of Corrections Department Janine Donate. The questions were submitted to Donate by local resident Maureen Simonetta.

Q: “How many of the Lehigh County Jail inmates were confined pending a trial?”

A: “Currently, we have 294 pretrial inmates in LCJ [Lehigh County Jail]. That number fluctuates on a daily basis and the number that is eligible for release may be far less than the actual number. Pretrial inmates include any inmate not serving a sentence and includes bench warrants, court commitments, open criminal charges, probation violations and PFA [Protection From Abuse order] contempt. These inmates may be incarcerated for violent felonies and may also have other detainers.”

Q: “How many inmates sleep in each cell?”

A: “There are no more than two inmates per cell in most housing units. There is a dormitory style housing unit that has no actual cells and only rows of bunks. There is also a housing unit that has open-concept dormitory cells with no doors and up to four persons in a cell.”

Q: “Do inmates sleep with masks on during the night?”

A: “Sleeping in a mask is not a requirement, only when the inmate leaves his/her cell are they required to wear a mask. Cellmates are cohorts and similar to persons who reside in the same household.”

Q: “[What is the] time required to get medical attention from [the] time of request?”

A: “Inmates requesting medical services for non-emergency concerns should communicate that by completing a Sick Call Request available in the housing unit. The request is then placed in a locked medical drop box on the housing unit and picked up at least daily by medical staff. The requests are then triaged by medical. Almost all medical services throughout the pandemic have taken place right on the housing units, as does medication distribution three times daily.”

Q: “Are meals communal or taken to cells?”

A: “Inmates have been eating their meals in their cells “

Q: “Who pays for testing?”

A: “The tests were received through the Dept. of Health at no cost. Our medical provider conducts the process as part of their contracted healthcare services.”

Q: “Can inmates decline to receive the vaccine? “

A: “Yes, there is no mandate for the vaccine.”

Q: Ettore Angelo: “Why is the PA Supreme Court Order to reduce jail populations not being followed? Why is the Community Corrections Center not being used to help with distancing?”

A: “The offices of the District Attorney, Public Defender, Probation/Parole, Pre-Trial Services, meet on a regular and on-going basis, to review cases and evaluate whether or not there are inmates who may be subject to release. Department of Corrections staff also participate (sic) in the review by supplying information necessary for these reviews. The Community Corrections Center was temporarily closed on December 4th due to staffing needs and the reallocation of those services to the main jail.”

Q: Patrick Peterson: “[What is] the recidivism rate of inmates released early due to COVID?”

A: “We currently do not have the recidivism statistics for those inmates.”

Q: Susan Jordhamo: “What is the plan to get staff and inmates vaccinated?”

A: “Staff have (sic) been provided the information necessary to make an appointment to receive their vaccination. We currently do not have a clear indication on when we will receive vaccinations for the inmate population.”

Q: Maximus Weikel: “What will the Board do in the next 60 days to decreased [decrease] the jail population, retain staff and increased [increase] the number of corrections officers?”

A: “I cannot answer for the board, but we have not stopped our efforts to recruit and hire staff. This has not occurred without challenges, even before the pandemic, but certainly more so during the pandemic. Six new officers just completed the academy class Jan. 20, and we are in the process currently of hiring again for a March academy class. As for the jail population, the Department of Corrections does not have control over the new admissions coming into the jail. We have worked with the other county Criminal Justice stakeholders to provide the information necessary for their review, evaluation and possible alternatives to incarceration for those inmates incarcerated on Lehigh County charges.”

Q: Jessica Ortiz: “How to get masks from the Ortiz Ark Foundation to the inmates?”

A: “Ms. Ortiz has reached out to me with regards to donating disposable masks. I am waiting for her to make arrangements with us for that donation. We have our own supply of masks for staff and inmates as well. We closely monitor our PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) inventory and continue to procure additional supplies when necessary.”