Sweeping changes were announced Wednesday by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to combat drugs entering prisons following a state-wide lockdown on Aug. 29 after more than two dozen state prison employees fell ill from coming in contact with a substance believed to be synthetic marijuana.
The DOC believes K2, a liquified drug, entered the facilities soaked into paper within books and letter, which inmates would then smoke or eat.
Earlier this week, the DOC released an exposure log listing 28 instances going back to May 31 in which prison employees had experienced symptoms of an overdose after coming in contact with then unknown substances.
The second case recorded from June 3 occurred at SCI-Coal Township, during which a staff member came in contact with a powder substance and began feeling ill.
According to Amy Worden, press secretary for corrections, said prison staff administered a dose of Narcan before the person was transported for treatment at Geisinger-Shamokin Area Community Hospital. A test was done on the substance and tested positive for fentanyl.
In a release from the DOC stated from this year from January to June, 2,034 drug incidents involving 1,082 inmates were recorded by the department, with 40 percent of the drugs introduced to the prisons being synthetic cannabinoids.
The DOC is attempting to tackle the problem through seven different methods, which includes the immediate elimination of main processing at the facilities.
The release states “all inmate mail will be sent to a central processing facility where it will be opened, scanned and emailed back to the facilities,” where the mail will be printed and delivered to inmates.
Effective immediately, all inmate mail should be sent to Smart Communications/PADOC, inmate name/inmate number, institution, PO Box 33028, St. Petersburg, FL 33733. Envelops must include a return address and photos are limited to no more than 25.
Legal mail will be copied at the facilities by staff wearing protective gear in front of the inmate on copies used only for legal mail which will follow strict cleaning protocols.
The DOC will begin a transition to ebooks and a DOC library system through which inmates can request a book. All requests and payments for books will be handled by the central office, which will ship to the facility housing the inmate.
Staffing is to be doubled in visiting rooms and a 90-day moratorium on photos and vending will be implemented to allow prisons to stabilize the visiting rooms to prevent the passage of drugs through photos or food and drink.
Offenders will experience stricter punishments, with a lifetime ban for visitors bringing drugs into facilities and a suspension of visits for inmates found in possession of drugs.
The DOC plans to expand use of drone detection software which tracks drone activity within the limits of the facilities in order to stop drug delivery by drone.
A team has been put together to enhance commitment reception protocol for returning parole violates and new commits, which the DOC labels as a way drugs enter the facilities.
Body scanners which detect contraband on or within a person will also be expanded within the prisons within 90 days. SCI-Coal Township currently uses the scanner to great success, as well as Wenersville Community Corrections Center. Enhances ion scanners through use of Rapiscan is also being upgraded state-wide, with at least two being purchased for each facility.
A drug hotline has been implemented by the DOC for both public and inmates to call and report drug possession by inmates, visitors or staff members. Callers may remain anonymous, but a name and inmate number must be left if you wish to speak to an investigator. Call 717-728-4743 to report suspicious activity.
For more information, visit the DOC website at www.cor.pa.gov.