With new security measures in place, Pa. prisons end lockdown

Aerial photograph of the Rockview state prison grounds Jan. 12, 2006.
Aerial photograph of the Rockview state prison grounds Jan. 12, 2006. Centre Daily Times, file

All Pennsylvania state prisons reopened Monday after a 12-day lockdown, according to a press release from the Department of Corrections.

The DOC took an “extraordinary step” by initiating the lockdown on Aug. 29 after more than 50 staff members and 33 inmates reported being sickened and were taken to hospitals between May 31 and Sept. 1.

“This has been a difficult time for staff who became ill by encountering suspected synthetic drugs while simply performing their jobs,” DOC Secretary John Wetzel said. “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.”

At least three employees at Rockview and Benner state prisons reported an illness in the past two weeks, but there have been other drug-related incidents at the prisons this year.

A dedication and tour was held at State Correctional Institution at Benner Township (SCI Benner) Monday, April 1, 2013. The prison cost nearly $200 million to construct and is 46 acres inside the perimeter’s fence. Centre Daily Times, file

A former Rockview corrections officer trainee allegedly planned to smuggle Suboxone into the prison and was subsequently charged with two felonies and one misdemeanor in June.

State police at Rockview also investigated the death of 28-year-old Benner state prison inmate Khasion Garland, who was found to have three balloons filled with synthetic marijuana in his system.

During the lockdown, Gov. Tom Wolf and Wetzel announced new security protocols aimed at protecting staff, visitors and inmates. Officials also enforced mandatory statewide training for how to put on and remove gloves, while special team members were trained on how to detect, contain and remove hazardous materials.

“We are confident that these new and refined tools and protocols will help our employees to detect, monitor and continue efforts to keep drugs out of our facilities,” Wetzel said.

If the incidents continue, however, Wetzel said he will issue another lockdown without hesitation.

Bath salts, K2, and Spice are all commonly, and often legally, available products being used as synthetic drugs.