Spate of illnesses leads to new prison policies

WAYNESBURG, Pa. (AP) — The Pennsylvania prison system is putting in place new policies on mail handling, visits and detection of drones after a month in which about 50 staff reported symptoms that may have been caused by exposure to toxic chemicals.

Gov. Tom Wolf and Corrections Secretary John Wetzel announced the plan Wednesday, after Wolf met privately with staff and union representatives at the State Correctional Institution at Greene in southwestern Pennsylvania. The changes will be imposed over the coming three months.

The state’s 25 prisons have been on lockdown and visits have been banned for the past week, as officials have been investigating the spate of illnesses . The cause is suspected to be a clear, odorless substance known as synthetic marijuana that can be concealed in the paper of books and letters.

Inmate mail will be processed outside of the prisons, except legal mail. Legal mail will be copied by staff in the presence of inmates, and the process will be videotaped.