Pennsylvania DOC’s Use of Virtual Contacts throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic

Bret Bucklen
January 5, 2022

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) made swift and intentional adjustments to their supervision practices throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. While many departments of corrections made policy changes to protect staff and effectively support individuals on supervision, there is value in understanding the actual variation in supervision contact frequency and contact methods used over the last two years. 

Below is a graph showing that contacts per month doubled from February 2020 to April 2020, before ultimately settling back down to pre-pandemic levels by fall of 2020.

Breaking out the monthly contact rate by type shows that while overall contacts doubled, the frequency of phone call contacts increased nearly 2,000% in early 2020. While March through June saw the greatest decrease in face-to-face contacts and increase in phone contacts, Pennsylvania’s DOC has used the information gathered from this time period to establish new guidelines that encourage using phone contacts in specific instances. As a result, phone contacts have remained elevated above pre-pandemic levels even as many social institutions returned their operations to normal.

Phone contacts can improve efficiency for both parole agents and supervised clients, operating as a way for parole agents to check-in with their clients while saving the health risks and time costs associated with face-to-face contacts. As the environment in which DOCs operate continues to evolve, it is critical that leaders have access to real-time data to monitor how policies are put into practice. Such a feedback channel empowers leaders to make policy decisions backed by evidence of what may improve client outcomes and meet needs without creating excessive burdens.

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