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Carbon feels effects of state prison lockdown

Published August 31. 2018 12:23PM

Carbon County’s prison system is feeling some of the effects from a recently enacted lockdown on all Pennsylvania state prisons. The lockdown was due to exposure to synthetic marijuana, more commonly known as K2, that sickened many in multiple state prisons in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

On Thursday, the county prison board discussed the matter of the 14 inmates in the Carbon County prison that are sentenced to state prison terms.

Sheriff Anthony Harvilla, president of the prison board, said the county received information from the Department of Corrections regarding the issue of drug residue, suspected to be a mixture of heroin and fentanyl, being introduced into some facilities.

“The Department of Corrections indicated they are on lockdown and are not accepting any new inmates,” Harvilla said.

But the county received an email stating that it would be able to transport inmates who already had arrangements to go to a state facility.

Warden Timothy Fritz said he planned to contact the state for clarification to make sure that was still the case before transporting the two women and 12 men who are awaiting transfer to state prisons.

“I want to get clarification to see if we had these people sentenced if we can get them out there because obviously there are programs and things they have to take care of in order to get out in a timely manner from their sentence,” Fritz said.

In addition, the county needs to clarify picking up state inmates on a writ and bringing them to Carbon County’s prison.

Right now, it looks like the county can still do that but cannot return the inmate to the state prison.

“We may have a slight up tick in population until the DOC satisfies the issues they are having with drugs,” Harvilla said.

As of Thursday, there were 203 inmates in the county prison.

The state prison lockdown was announced Wednesday after employees at 10 prisons required treatment from exposure to an then unidentified substance described in some cases as a liquid synthetic drug. Corrections Secretary John Wetzel announced Friday that the substance is believed to be K2, and is coming to the facilities soaked into paper via letters or books. Inmates then eat or smoke the paper.

According to The Associated Press, Pennsylvania is now reporting nearly three dozen employees getting sickened starting Aug. 6 in state prisons. Symptoms include dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea and skin tingling.

The department says it doesn’t know how long the lockdown will last.

In the meantime, it is suspending prison visits, closing mailrooms to nonlegal mail, using extra caution with newly arrived inmates and requiring all employees to use gloves and other protective equipment.

Pennsylvania State Police declined Thursday to discuss their investigation into the substance sickening staff at that state’s prisons, although the Department of Corrections has described it as a liquid synthetic drug that in some cases is absorbed through the skin.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf in a statement Wednesday said the lockdown was a “necessary step” to ensure officers’ safety and allow time to “assess and control the situation.”

State prisons in Ohio have also been experiencing a number of employees and inmates getting sick as a result of exposure to a heroin and fentanyl mixture, some having to be treated with naloxone.

State correctional facilities in Maryland and Delaware have also suspended visits in response to the Ohio and Pennsylvania cases.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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