State prisons put on lockdown after reports of staff sickened by unknown substance

A similar incident occurred Wednesday in Ohio.

Tony Romeo
August 29, 2018 - 3:26 pm



PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ordered an immediate lockdown of all state prisons Wednesday after reports of almost 30 staff members became sickened by unknown substances over the past few weeks.

"The safety and security of our employees is my number one concern," said Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel in a statement. "Our state prisons, especially those in the western part of the state, have experience recent incidents in which employees have been sickened and we need to get to the bottom of this issue now."

The indefinite lockdown comes just hours after it was reported that at least two dozen people were sickened by an unknown substance at a prison in Ohio, including prison guards, nurses and inmates. Medics issued several doses of Narcan.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections did not say if the two cases are related in any way. 

"We have had some incidents, mostly in the western part of the state, where our employees have experienced feeling sick, and we need to get to the bottom of this issue now," said Susan McNaughton, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections.

Staff members became ill over the last week and a half or so after entering a cell or coming into contact with something an inmate had touched.

McNaughton said that means all visits are suspended for the length of the lockdown and all mail rooms are closed to non-legal mail at all facilities until further notice. 

Tests are pending, but it will take some time before the results are in and the cause of the illness is conclusively determined. She also could not say whether it is believed that the situation in Pennsylvania is related to possible overdose symptoms suffered by guards and inmates in Ohio.

KYW Newsradio's Rachel Kurland contributed to this report.