State to invest more than $1.5 million at BCF

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By Vince Luecke

BRANCHVILLE - State officials plan to invest more than $1.5 million at the Branchville Correctional Facility next year, increasing nighttime lighting and adding an electrified fence that will deliver a stunning jolt to prevent escapes. The state also plans to continue efforts at promoting industrial-based vocational programs for offenders by converting an underused warehouse to work space.

Gil Peters, superintendent of the medium-security facility that houses more than 1,300 male offenders, announced next year's planned improvements at the Dec. 17 meeting at the county courthouse with members of the correctional facility's community-advisory board. Peters said the new security measures don't necessarily mean more dangerous offenders will be coming to the facility and said Branchville will retain its Level 2 designation on the state's five-level security classification.

The electrified fence, which will deliver up to 5,000 volts at low amperage, creates an intimidating deterrent to any offenders plotting an escape. The new fence will be placed on the inside of the existing metal fences and deliver an electrical shock similar to hand-held stun devices used by some police officers. "It's not going to be a lethal fence like some institutions have or are talking about installing," Peters said.

The new fence, which carries a price tag of more than $200,000, will include surveillance cameras that instantly focus on areas of the fence that have been triggered. The video footage could be used as evidence in a trial.

New fencing will also extend around a large 26,000-square-foot warehouse currently outside the main perimeter of fencing. Peters said the building is currently underused and will be used for offender programs. The warehouse had been considered for a possible minimum-security Level 1 center for offenders. However, that idea raised concerns from residents of the area who worried offenders might walk away.

Vocational-industrial programs have become an important part of the offerings for offenders

In addition to the fence, state officials plan to increase lighting around the facility to allow more nighttime programs. The high-power units will "light the place up," Peter said.

State leaders plan to demolish the existing offender services building, which Peters said is about the oldest structure at the facility. The building will be replaced with a new one. Discussions on when demolition will start, and if the new building will be constructed before or after the old one is torn down, are still under way, Peters said.

Overriding goals of the correctional facility include community safety and promoting a strong work ethic among offenders, Peters said. With the exception of general-education programs that help offenders obtain the equivalents of high-school diplomas, offenders taking college classes and other self-improvement programs will do so in evenings, not during the day, freeing up time during the day for work.

The changes could allow more offenders with outside clearance to join work crews that provide a variety of services in the community, Peters said. Approximately 200 men are cleared for crews, which pick up litter along highways, help out at state parks and even help during Tell City's Schweizer Fest.

Some offenders with outside clearance have been unavailable during the school year because of classes. With those programs now held in evenings, more offenders may be available to help in the community.