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All Pennsylvania State Prisons Placed on Lockdown Following Illnesses from Unknown Substances

by on August 29, 2018 3:25 PM

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has placed all state prisons on immediate lockdown after more than two dozen employees were sickened by exposure to unknown substances since the beginning of August.

“The safety and security of our employees is my number one concern,” Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said in a release. “Our state prisons, especially those in the western part of the state, have experienced recent incidents in which employees have been sickened and we need to get to the bottom of this issue now.”

Most of the illnesses have occurred at state correctional institutes in western Pennsylvania, but the latest incidents happened Tuesday in Centre County at SCI Rockview. One employee who was sorting inmate request slips began to feel sick and was taken to the prison's medical center area where she was assessed then transported to the hospital. Another employee, working in the same build, was sorting mail also began to feel ill. Both were released from the hospital on Tuesday afternoon and toxicology and urinalysis tests were inconclusive.

In addition to placing all state prisons on lockdown indefinitely, Wetzel said the department is taking additional immediate steps.

- All DOC mail rooms are closed to non-legal mail until further notice

- Use of personal protective equipment, especially gloves, is mandatory for all employees

- Training on situational awareness will be held at all institutions

- All visits are suspended until the lockdown is lifted

Staff also are being advised to take extra caution when parole violators and new inmates are brought into the system.

The measures are the latest effort since the outbreak of illnesses. Last week the DOC introduced a multi-point plan including new training in the use of personal protective equipment, increasing inventory of protective gear, purchasing safety disposal units for unknown substances, training in-house emergency response teams for hazardous material response, expanding the use of body scanners, reviewing procedures for inmate mail processing, purchasing K9 Narcan auto injectors for use on drug-sniffing dogs, and expanding the K9 unit.

Wetzel noted that Pennsylvania is not the only state where prisons are dealing with the issue of illegal substances and employee illnesses. On Wednesday, more than two dozen people at Ross Correctional Institute in Ohio were treated after they were exposed to an unknown substance and experienced possible opioid overdose symptoms.

“We will do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of our staff,” Wetzel said.

“The state’s Opioid Command Center is giving complete support to this action. And Corrections thanks all state agencies for their support, especially the Pennsylvania Department of Health, for providing additional gloves and personal protective equipment.”

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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