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State prisons resume normal operations after 12-day lockdown

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Normal operations resumed Monday at all state prisons after a 12-day lockdown prompted by drug exposures that sickened multiple employees and inmates, according to the Department of Corrections.

Between May 31 and Sept. 1, more than 50 staff members and 33 inmates reported being sickened and were taken to hospitals, officials said.

In multiple cases of staff exposure, toxicology results confirmed the presence of cannabinoid, officials said. Lab tests confirmed inmate overdoses were linked to synthetic cannabinoids and other illegal substances.

Statewide mandatory training was enforced during the lockdown on wearing and removing gloves. Some team members were also trained in the detection, containment and removal of hazardous materials, according to the Department of Corrections.

“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,” Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said in a statement.

Wetzel said officials worked ease some of the stress on inmates and their families by allowing some phone contact during the lockdown.

“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.


During the lockdown, Gov. Tom Wolf and DOC officials announced the following changes to DOC processes:

  • Immediate elimination of mail processing at facilities using a third-party vendor that will process all non-legal inmate mail.
  • Improved safety precautions used when opening legal mail in front of inmates.
  • Increased staffing in all visiting rooms.
  • Temporary modifications to visiting rooms involving vending machines and inmate photos.
  • Stricter visiting suspensions for visitors and inmates caught introducing contraband via visiting rooms, including indefinite or even lifetime bans for visitors.
  • A bolstered library system and a centralized ordering/purchasing of books for inmates.
  • Expansion of drone detection software and capabilities.
  • Enhanced inmate commitment/reception protocol.
  • Expanded use of body scanners.
  • Additional and improved Ion Scanners.
  • Implementation of a drug hotline where individuals can report information about drugs inside state facilities.