All state correctional institutions in Pennsylvania were placed under lockdown order Wednesday afternoon as the Department of Corrections tried to get to the bottom of a mysterious illness among some staffers, the DOC said.
Pennsylvania's corrections system includes 26 prisons and six smaller facilities. Combined, the DOC housed more than 47,000 prisoners in July, according to the most recent report.
The lockdown was ordered amid reports of "multiple staff members sickened by unknown substances," the DOC said in a statement.
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"The safety and security of our employees is my number one concern," Corrections 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."
The lockdown will included the following steps:
- Mailrooms will be closed to all 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 facilities.
- No prison visits will be allowed until the lockdown is lifted.
The sickness scare comes on the same day that Ohio state officials reported that 20 prison guards and inmates at a prison in Chillicothe, Ohio, suffered possible opioid overdose symptons, the DOC said.
Wetzel said Pennsylvania's Opioid Command Center will be part of his department's investigation into what caused the sickness among correctional officers.
"We will do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of our staff," Wetzel said. "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."