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Prison given 'low-medium' security status

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Outside work crews at Branchville will wear yellow jumpsuits; fences patrolled by canines

By Vince Luecke

BRANCHVILLE - Officials at Branchville Correctional Facility announced more security changes last week in response to the escapes last month of three offenders.

Branchville Correctional Facility hosted a town-hall meeting April 11 to field questions and suggestions from the public. Nick Zellers, spokesman for the facility, said public comments played a role in some of the changes recently implemented or under consideration.

Low-Medium Facility

Branchville Correctional Facility is now classified as a low-medium security facility and will only house offenders with eight years or less remaining on their sentences.

Up until this month, the facility had a medium-security designation and housed offenders with up to 15 years remaining on their sentences.

Offenders' pending charges are now being taken into consideration when establishing their placement at Branchville, Zellers said. Offenders facing lengthy sentences in other states or accused of other serious crimes will be turned away, even if their current sentence makes them eligible for a low-medium facility.

The Department of Correction has already sent approximately 80 offenders who no longer meet the facility's new criteria to higher-security-level prisons across the state.  

As of last Thursday all offenders housed at Branchville Correctional Facility meet the new criteria, Zellers said.

The correctional facility is also in the process of implementing a stricter set of criteria for offenders assigned to outside work details and to all maintenance positions.

The three men who escaped March 20, Bobby Cockerell, Christopher Marshall and Jerry Sargent, were assigned to a maintenance crew the morning they allegedly beat a staff member and cut through a fence. They were recaptured in Nebraska nearly a week later.

Offenders assigned to these positions are being kept inside the perimeter fence until they can be re-evaluated based on the new criteria, Zellers said.

Offenders participating in Branchville Correctional Facility's work crews will now be required to wear bright yellow jumpsuits in order to make them more visible while working outdoors.

In other security steps, the facility has placed sentry dogs between the prison's two perimeter fences to bolster security.

The number of times offenders are allowed to move has also been reduced.

Zellers said all offender movement will take place at either the top or bottom of the hour and only in five-minute windows.

This will allow for better offender accountability and will also increase the level of overall offender supervision, he said.

New high-mast lighting announced more than a year ago will be installed to provide better security at night.

The March 20 escapes took place during the day but two other offenders escaped in 2008 at night. Lights and others materials are on the grounds and installation will begin in the near future.

Most of the trees inside the prison's perimeter fences were removed late last year to improve visibility for yard officers and employees patrolling fences in vehicles.