PA Department of Corrections places all state correctional institutions on lockdown

Credit: PA Department of Corrections

HARRISBURG — All state correctional institutions are on lockdown due to reports of multiple staff members being sickened by unknown substances over the past few weeks, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections announced Wednesday.

“The safety and security of our employees is my number one concern, Secretary John Wetzel said. “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.”

Wetzel announced that the following steps have been taken, effective immediately and indefinitely:

  • All DOC state prisons are locked down.
  • All DOC mailrooms 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 immediately in all institutions.
  • All visits are suspended for the length of the lock down.

Staff members are also being advised to use extra caution when parole violators and new commits are received into the prison system, the Department of Corrections said.

Gov. Tom Wolf issued this statement on the lockdown:

“Pennsylvania’s corrections officers put themselves in harm’s way to make our commonwealth safer, and it is up to us to provide them protection from harm. I spoke to Sec. Wetzel today and they continue to work diligently to address the emerging issue of synthetic drugs in our prison system, and my office and I have been supporting his efforts. Today’s action to lock down all of the state’s correctional facilities is a necessary step to ensure the safety of our officers and provide the department the opportunity to assess and control the situation.

“It is our responsibility to keep all commonwealth employees safe while at work so that they return home each day to their families. I have confidence that the Department of Corrections, working with state agency partners and law enforcement, will determine the cause or causes of the recent sickening of staff and put in place the necessary protections and procedures to ensure staff safety.”

Last week, the Department of Corrections announced plans to improve the safety of prisons. During that time, the Department of Corrections also stated that since the beginning of August, 18 staff members at three institutions in western Pennsylvania have been sickened by exposure to an unknown substance.

Jason Bloom, president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, also issued a statement:

“The Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association commends the Wolf administration for locking down all state correctional institutions. Simply too many of our officers are becoming sick due to contraband being illegally brought into these facilities. We’re prepared to help our members who have been sickened — but we must put this dangerous problem to an end. It’s our hope the steps being taken today will do just that.”