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BCF adds stun fence, lights

More than $1 million spent on security upgrades

Branchville Correctional Facility Superintendent Gil Peters points to the new electric stun fence, one of several security upgrades at the facility, which had five prisoners escape in two separate incidents about a year apart.
August 26, 2009
Following the escape of five offenders in two separate incidents about a year apart, Branchville Correctional Facility is in the process of making more than $1 million in security upgrades.

The prison, through funding from the Indiana Department of Correction, has added seven high-mast lighting units, each with 10 10,000-watt lights, at a cost of $578,000, and is about halfway through installing an electric stun fence that cost $526,000.

Branchville Superintendent Gil Peters, during a recent meeting at the prison with local and state leaders, said the electric stun fence "will be the first barrier for offenders if they try to escape."

The stun fence is actually several electrically-charged wires spaced just inches apart from top to bottom on the inside of the inner-most of the perimeter's two fences. Peters said the jolt would be similar to that of handheld stun devices. About 40 percent of the stun fence has been installed, he said, adding it was hoped to be completed by Sept. 18.

"I'm not 100 percent sure that they're going to meet that target date, but we've got to figure end of September, early October" it should be installed, he said.

The high-mast lighting is operational, with the two-piece poles having been installed earlier this summer. After the bottom half of the poles, spaced out along the prison's 35-acre perimeter, were erected, the top halves were installed via a helicopter.

Although those are the most high-profile security improvements, they aren't the only ones made at the prison. Peters noted that a third string of razor wire has been added to the exterior fence, trees have been removed to reduce shadows and offenders on work crews outside of the prison now wear yellow jumpsuits instead of the regular beige.

In addition, almost after the most recent escape last spring, the Indiana Department of Correction changed the prison's classification from a medium-security facility to a low-medium-security facility. Before, the prison would house offenders with 15 or less years remaining on their sentence; whereas now, the number of years is eight.

Peters said Branchville can house 1,341 offenders and usually maintains a population of between 1,300 and 1,330. The prisoner-to-guard ratio is 1:9.2, while that of prisoners to all staff is 1:7.1, the same as it was before the escapes and "pretty typical of a low-medium-security facility," he said.

Peters said the prison also didn't change its public notification system regarding escapes. He said, officials determined that there wasn't a problem with the process, rather there weren't enough people signed up to receive telephone notification.

(The public may sign up for the ALERT Notification Service by calling 1-866-949-2537.)

Several of the public officials, including State Reps. Dennie Oxley I and Russ Stillwell, who represent the communities around the prison, praised Branchville and IDOC personnel for acting quickly following last spring's escape.

"Russ and I's opinion is (it) didn't matter what it cost," Oxley said of the security upgrades. "You can't put a price on the safety of the community."

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