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Lockdown Lifted for Pennsylvania Prisons

by on September 10, 2018 12:05 PM

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections on Monday ended a 12-day lockdown of all state prisons.

The lockdown came after more than 50 employees and 33 inmates became sick from exposure to synthetic drugs since May 31. According to the DOC, toxicology results confirmed the presence of synthetic marijuana in multiple instances of staff exposure. Tests also confirmed inmate overdoses linked to synthetic marijuana and other illegal substances.

Locally, two SCI Rockview employees became ill after handling inmate-related documents and a SCI Benner corrections officer was taken to the hospital after being exposed to a white powder in an inmate's cell.

“This has been a difficult time for staff who became ill by encountering suspected synthetic drugs while simply performing their jobs,” said Corrections Secretary John Wetzel. “It also has been a challenging time for all employees as they were called upon to perform various lockdown-related duties. I am proud of our staff and how they all pulled together as a team. The safety of our staff is paramount to the running of this prison system, so we took this time to calm the system and to train staff so they can remain safe while performing their jobs.”

Since the outbreak of illnesses, the state has put a number of new safety and security measures in place, including new training in the use of personal protective equipment, training for in-house emergency response teams and new procedures for handling inmate mail and increased drug detection efforts.

“With today’s first early morning inmate line movements, we began our new normal in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections,” Wetzel said. “We are confident that these new and refined tools and protocols will help our employees to detect, monitor and continue efforts to keep drugs out of our facilities.”

During the lockdown, DOC mail rooms were closed to non-legal mail and visits were suspended.

“We realize that lockdowns, especially long ones, cause stress and anxiety,” Wetzel said. “We worked to allow some phone contact during the lockdown to alleviate feelings of uncertainty. We also communicated regularly with inmates to explain the reasons for the lockdown and our plans moving forward. Our plans improve the safety of our system for both staff and inmates.”

Wetzel said that if incidents resume, he "will not hesitate to return the system to a complete lockdown status."

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