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WAYNESBURG, Pa. (KDKA/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 announced it Wednesday at SCI Greene.

Pennsylvania’s 25 prisons have been on lockdown for a week while officials investigate the spate of illnesses.

“I take the safety of our corrections officers very, very seriously,” said Gov. Tom Wolf. “The sickening of more than 30 staff members from unknown substances over the past three weeks is frightening.  It’s not acceptable and needs to be stopped.”

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

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.

Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel said unknown substances are getting into prisons through regular mail, legal mail, drones, the visitation room, books, publications and at commitment.

“Effective immediately we will no longer ever receive mail at any DOC facility again,” said Wetzel.

Instead, the mail will go to a central location to be scanned.  Within 90 days, every prison will have a body scanner and that’s not all.

“Effective immediately, we are going to increase staff at every visit room. There will be a 90 day moratorium on photos and vending,” said Wetzel.  “If a visitor is caught attempting to bring drugs in, they will never be allowed in a DOC facility again.”

If an inmate is caught, they will also pay a price.

“A first offense six month visit suspension. Second offense, 12 month visit suspension, third offense, indefinite,” said Wetzel.

Wetzel believes these unknown substances are likely suboxone and K2, which is a synthetic drug. Western Pennsylvania seems to be getting hit the hardest in recent months.

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