PA State Prison workers demand change following increase in violence and drugs within prison walls

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- People in Harrisburg calling for immediate legislative action to protect the lives of our Commonwealth`s corrections personnel.

This comes after ten state corrections staff members became violently ill after exposure to an `unknown substance`, landing them in the hospital.

"Ladies and gentleman, we've got people who are hurting, we've got family members who are scared, we've got staff who are scared, we have staff who are leaving," said Representative Cris Dush.

Pennsylvania State Representative, Cris Dush, alongside former corrections workers and family members come together in Harrisburg, pushing legislatures for a change.

Those in attendance say there's increased inmate violence, illegal drugs and what they call a `lack of control` within Pennsylvania State Prisons.

"The staff assaults have gotten so out of control and I treat those staff assaults so I see the devastation that can be done on a weekly basis at least," said Lisa Wise, retired corrections nurse.

“The staff assault rate has inched up by 4% in the first half of 2018, but the overall downward trend in the staff assault rate continues, as the staff assault rate remains lower today than it was 25 years ago," said the Department of Corrections in a statement to FOX43.

Recently  ten state corrections staff members became violently ill after exposure to an unknown substance, landing them in the hospital.

"The Suboxone, the fentanyl, the liquid K2, years ago it used to be once in a while, we have it now it's almost a daily basis where they're finding drugs within the institution, cell phones, homemade weapons," said Mike Juret, retired sergeant.

"We've seen many more opioid issues within our communities and that transfers right into the prisons," Sheryl Delozier, Pennsylvania State Representative (R- Cumberland).

"The department of corrections has a big job to identify what is needed to do that in order protect our CO`s but also to make sure our jails are safer, period," added Delozier.

Tabb Bickell, with Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, says he understands their concerns, adding that they are working to continue and make improvements to their prisons across the state, ensuring safety.

"There is nothing more concerning to me than the safety of our staff inside these institutions, in particular our corrections officers," said Bickell.

"Can we do enough, can we do more? We absolutely can and we absolutely will," he added.

The Department of Corrections tells FOX43 they will be implementing the following to improve safety within state prisons:
  • New training in the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the majority of institutional staff - including all corrections officers, maintenance, and food service staff who handle inmate clothing or property – to ensure the use of protective gear when conducting searches and processing inmate mail or other items.
  • Training in-house Fire Emergency Response Teams (FERT) in hazardous material response.
  • Increasing the inventory of protective gear, including purchasing special gloves and respirators to ensure that staff have greater protection when handling potentially hazardous material.
  • Purchasing safety disposal equipment for unknown substances, including an appropriate container and bags that can be sealed for use in the mailrooms to safely secure and dispose of questionable items.
  • Expanding the use of body scanners at state prisons and community corrections centers. The DOC has installed body scanners at SCI Coal Township and soon SCI Huntingdon on a pilot basis. The Community Corrections Center at Wernersville purchased a body scanner after experiencing promising results. The agency plans to install body scanners at all institutions to be used following inmate visitation to ensure contraband does not enter the institutions.
  • Reviewing procedures for inmate mail processing to identify better means to safely and efficiently detect and divert contraband before it is delivered to the inmate population.  Attempts to introduce narcotics through the mail have increased significantly in recent years.  Illicit substances are often secreted under stamps, in pictures or saturated into the paper itself, making detection of drugs a time-consuming and difficult undertaking.
  • Purchasing K9 Narcan auto injectors to be available for use on drug-sniffing K9s.
  • Expanding the K9 unit by three teams dedicated to searching community corrections facilities.