– The Department of Corrections today resumed normal
operations at all state prisons following a 12-day lockdown to address a
growing drug crisis in its facilities that sickened multiple employees.
On August 29,
the department took the extraordinary step of initiating a lockdown of all
state correctional institutions after a series of cases of staff exposure to
Between May 31
and September 1, more than 50 staff members and 33 inmates reported being
sickened and were taken to outside hospitals. Toxicology results confirmed the
presence of synthetic cannabinoid in multiple instances of staff exposure. Lab
tests confirmed inmate overdoses linked to synthetic cannabinoids and other
“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.”
Wetzel also acknowledged the difficulties this
lockdown has presented for inmates and their families and friends.
“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.”
During the lockdown, officials enforced a
statewide mandatory training on the donning and doffing of gloves, and special
team members were trained in the detection, containment and removal of
hazardous materials. Additional
safety, security measures were announced by Gov. Tom Wolf on Sept. 5.
“I want to personally thank Gov. Wolf and our
sister agencies for their continued support of this agency,” Wetzel said. “They
understand and appreciate the challenging jobs our corrections employees
perform each day in order to protect public safety and to return law-abiding
citizens to our communities. Their support is essential as we move ahead with
important systemic changes.
During the lockdown, Gov. Wolf and DOC
officials announced the following important changes to DOC processes:
elimination of mail processing at facilities using a third-party vendor
that will process all non-legal inmate mail.
safety precautions used when opening legal mail in front of inmates.
staffing in all visiting rooms.
modifications to visiting rooms involving vending machines and inmate
visiting suspensions for visitors and inmates caught introducing
contraband via visiting rooms, including indefinite or even lifetime bans
bolstered library system and a centralized ordering/purchasing of books
of drone detection software and capabilities.
inmate commitment/reception protocol.
use of body scanners.
and improved Ion Scanners.
of a drug hotline where individuals can report information about drugs
inside state facilities.
“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.”
Wetzel also has said that he will not hesitate
to return the system to a complete lockdown status if incidents resume.
Individuals are encouraged to visit the DOC’s website for details and frequent updates on the
changes being implemented.
MEDIA CONTACT: Susan
McNaughton, 717-728-4025; Amy Worden, 717-728-4026
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