Pa. prisons say changes after staff sickened costing about $15M

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The head of Pennsylvania’s prison system said today it is costing the state about $15 million to implement new procedures to combat drug smuggling believed to have caused dozens of staff to become sick in recent weeks.

Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said the 25 prisons are on track to resume normal operations next week.

About 50 guards and other employees have reported symptoms since the start of August that are thought to have been caused by exposure to a clear, odorless substance known as synthetic marijuana, or K-2.

Wetzel said attorney-client visits have resumed, and all visits are expected to be allowed starting Monday. The weeklong systemwide lockdown should be over early next week as well.

The prisons are expanding the use of body scanners and drone detection, and adding staff to visiting rooms.

Wetzel said about 80 percent of the department’s workers have been trained on the use of protective equipment, and by the end of the day Friday all prisons should have established hazardous materials teams.

Under an emergency procurement process, the state will be sending inmate mail to be processed outside of prisons, but legal mail will be copied by staff in the presence of inmates.

The new address for nonlegal mail has been posted online.

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