© 2022 90.5 WESA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Contact 90.5 WESA with a story idea or news tip: news@wesa.fm

After A Nearly 2-Week Lockdown, State Prisons To Resume Normal Operations

Marc Levy
Pictured are cells at a cleared wing of the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017.

After a 12-day lockdown at all state prisons, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections says it’s resuming normal operations.

The lockdown began at the end of August, when a rash of prison staffers were sickened by an unknown substance. Officials have since said they believe the source was a synthetic drug called K2 and that it’s responsible for sickening more than 50 staff members and 33 inmates.

K2 is a synthetic opioid that produces a high similar to that of cocaine. Officials say it can be sprayed onto paper and smoked or eaten to produce a high.

“This has been a difficult time for staff who became ill by encountering suspected synthetic drugs while simply performing their jobs,” said Corrections Secretary John Wetzel in a press release. “It also has been a challenging time for all employees as they were called upon to perform various lockdown-related duties.”

As part of the lockdown, all direct prison mail, except for legal mail, was cutoff. Instead, mail must be processed at a central location. The DOC also beefed up staff presence, doubling the number of visiting room staff and expanded its detection of drones and use of body scanners.

Wetzel said these and other changes during the lockdown was costing the state $15 million.

The DOC said in its press release that “Wetzel also has said that he will not hesitate to return the system to a complete lockdown status if incidents resume.”

Sarah Kovash previously worked as a web producer for KDKA-TV, as a freelance journalist for the Valley News Dispatch covering local government throughout the Alle-Kiski Valley and at NPR station KPBS in San Diego.