By Terri Hill | August 29, 2018
All state correctional facilities in Pennsylvania have been placed on immediate lockdown while authorities try and determine what is making staff members sick, according to a release from the Department of Corrections.
In addition to the lockdown and visitation being suspended, only mail from attorneys and the courts are being distributed to inmates.
It is now mandatory that staff use protective equipment, especially gloves and extra caution is to be taken when parole violators and new inmates are received into the prison system.
From Aug. 6 through Aug. 27, 23 staff members have been sickened by an unknown substance that corrections officials believe is being smuggled into facilities.
So far this month two women have been caught attempting to smuggle drugs into two prisons.
According to online court records and a news release from the Department of Corrections, Madir Destiny Coney, 23, of Darby, was arrested on Aug. 26 after officials watched her pass an unknown item to an inmate during a visit. The inmate attempted to flee from officers and swallowed the item.
Coney was arrested by state police and is charged with several drug offense, including delivery of a controlled substance. She was transported to the Clearfield County Jail and has since been released.
Guards at SCI-Camp Hill thwarted a similar attempt on Aug. 25, when guards stopped a female visitor before she was able to smuggle drugs into the prison.
According to the DOC, the woman was standing in line waiting to enter the prison and appeared nervous. A drug sniffing K9 alerted to the woman’s upper body region. After being questioned by an investigator, she admitted to hiding the drugs in her pants. The drugs tested positive for amphetamines, according to a preliminary field test.
The names of the two women were not specifically mentioned in the releases.
The symptoms that staff members experience vary, although most report feeling dizzy. Most return to work the same or the next day.
In an Aug. 21 report the Wolf Administration vowed to aggressively address the threat the substance is posing to staff and inmates and new measures are being put in place to increase safety at the facilities including, new training in the use of protective equipment; expanding the use of body scanners; increased screening of inmate mail and expanding the use of K9 units.
Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said today, “The state’s Opioid Command Center is giving complete support to this action. And Corrections thanks all state agencies for their support, especially the Pennsylvania Department of Health, for providing additional gloves and personal protective equipment.”
The problem is not confined to Pennsylvania. Over 20 staff members at an Ohio prison were treated Wednesday been treated after being exposed to an unknown substance. There has also been numerous reports of staff sickened in Illinois prisons while searching housing units.
It is unknown how long the lockdown will last.
Terri Hill can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org