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Lockdown lifted at SCI-Somerset, other state prisons

September 12, 2018

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections on Monday 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. The department announced the change in a news release.

On Aug. 29, the department initiated a lockdown of all state correctional institutions after a series of cases of staff exposure to synthetic drugs, including several at SCI-Somerset.

Between May 31 and Sept. 1, more than 50 employees 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 illegal substances.

“This has been a difficult time for staff who became ill by encountering suspected synthetic drugs while simply performing their jobs,” Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said in the release. “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 the lockdown presented for inmates and their families and friends.

“We realize that lockdowns, especially long ones, cause stress and anxiety,” he 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 mandatory training on the donning and doffing of gloves, and special team members were trained in the detection, containment and removal of hazardous materials.

The department also closed state prison mailrooms to nonlegal mail and increased staffing in visiting rooms.

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