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Movement of offenders restricted since escape
BRANCHVILLE - New strands of razor wire, additional lighting and beefed-up restrictions on the movements of offenders at Branchville Correctional Facility in Perry County are among changes put into place since two men escaped last month, the medium-security facility's superintendent said last week.
Speaking to a community advisory board, Gil Peters said offenders are now confined to dormitories between sunset and sunrise. Those who must leave their dorms for medical attention or other reasons are escorted by correctional officers.
During daytime hours, the process by which offenders leave one area and report to another has been changed to ensure men arrive where and when they are supposed to, Peters said.
Additional razor wire has been added in corners of the fence and a third strand of razor wire has been added around the entire perimeter of the facility. A fourth strand is possible, Peter said.
The changes follow the April 4 escapes of Kent A. Day, 45, and Conan L. Helsley, 20. The two men scaled a fence that Friday night and were on the run for more than a week before their capture in Warrick County. Day was serving a sentence for murder and his escape created alarm locally and in the Madisonville, Ky., area, where officials believe he and Helsley headed.
Peters outlined the response to the escapes, which he said were discovered quickly after an officer noticed that one of the men had not returned after a medical call. Since the next scheduled offender count wasn't until midnight, the quick discovery limited the two escapees' head start.
State and local police aided the prison's emergency-response and canine-search teams. The two men are suspected of stealing a truck near Interstate 64 Sunday morning and other vehicles in Kentucky.
Day suffered a serious cut from the razor wire while escaping and that injury helped lead to their capture, Peters said.
The last successful escape from Branchville was in the mid-1990s.
Peters said he and his staff want the community to know steps are being taken to lessen the chances of another successful escape.
"We've learned from this experience. If we see more changes are needed, we'll make them," he said. "Community safety is our top priority."
Some new lighting has been added and a project to install high-mast lighting around the facility is still in place. A proposal to remove many of the trees within the prison fence is being studied. Removing trees would reduce shadows and aid visibility.
Peters said a glitch in an alert-notification service designed to place automated calls about the escape has been fixed. The service allows people who want to be alerted to escapes and other emergencies at Indiana correctional facilities to register for a free service. However, calls about the Friday-night escapes did not begin until the next morning.
To register for the service, call toll-free (866) 949-2537.
Always a Medium Security Facility
Headlines about April's escape raised eyebrows from some in the community who were surprised that convicted murderers were housed there. However, Branchville Correctional Facility has long had violent offenders serving the final years of their sentences, Peters said. Though it housed only minimum-security offenders when it first opened in the early 1980s, Branchville has always been a medium-security facility.
Current guidelines allow offenders with up to 15 years remaining to serve to be placed at Branchville, meaning an offender such as Day serving a decades-long sentence who has abided by rules at other facilities can be housed there.
Approximately 1,300 men are housed at Branchville and all will eventually return to their communities.
While the escapes locked down the facility for several days, educational programs offenders participate in are continuing, Peters said. Several dozen offenders received associate and bachelor's degrees from Oakland City University Thursday and Peters said it's important that offenders at Branchville, all of whom will eventually be released back into the community, receive the education and job skills they'll need to avoid returning to prison.
"Just because we had one bad experience, we're not going to stop our programs to break that cycle (of recidivism)," he said.