PA state prisons prepare to return to routine operations Monday


It’s been a week and a half since all state prisons went into lockdown, because staff fell ill from what investigators believe were synthetic drugs. This weekend, facilities have been transitioning back to normal. All buildings are scheduled to return to routine operations Monday.

Department of Corrections officials have put new protocols in place to keep drugs out. They have examined letters inmates wrote to family members and friends, with instructions to get drugs inside Pennsylvania prisons.

“How to soak the paper, how to split the cards and all of that so that the drugs can enter into the system,” said Department of Corrections Executive Deputy Secretary Shirley Moore Smeal.

Corrections officials continue to research the seven ways they say drugs get into prisons, so they can stop it from happening.

“The Holy Bible…used to package drugs to get them into the facility as well,” said Moore Smeal.

This weekend, facilities slowly started to get back on their routines, allowing showers and multiple meals.

“Facilities may have had one yard activity or one open dining room, and so we are increasing back to two meals or three meals and more activities,” said Moore Smeal.

It’s been more than a week since visitors have been able to come by. But Monday, operations are scheduled to return to normal.

Still, the transition comes with much stricter guidelines, announced by Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel earlier this week.

“We will no longer receive mail at any DOC facility again,” said Wetzel.

Instead, mail will be scanned and processed elsewhere, before getting to prisons. The Department of Corrections will also use e-books or require books to be delivered through a specific system, so contraband can’t be hidden in bindings and pages. 

Prisons will use drone detection and body scanners, and staff will be doubled in visiting rooms.

“Stricter punishment for visits for people who are caught trying to introduce contraband into the facility, as well as inmates who are caught in possession of drugs or who have a positive urinalysis,” said Moore Smeal.

The Office of Administration is paying for the $15 million changes.

“After 90 days, we’ll take a review of how effective those changes have been,” said Moore Smeal.

Corrections officials say other states with similar problems, like Ohio, have been asking for information about Pennsylvania’s new rules. 

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