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Pa. county prison to fully enclose exercise yards after Cavalcante’s escape

The prison board approved the up to $3.5 million project to add walls and a roof to Chester County prison’s eight exercise yards

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The plans call for replacing fencing with 18-foot-high solid masonry walls, removing basketball hoops and adding an LED lighting system.

David Maialetti/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS

By Jesse Bunch
The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA — Chester County will fully enclose the exercise yards at its Pocopson prison with solid walls and a roof, the latest security upgrade announced after convicted murderer Danilo Cavalcante escaped from the facility last month.

The county’s prison board Wednesday unanimously approved the construction project, which is expected to cost $2.5 million to $3.5 million and take as long as nine months to complete.

TranSystems, the Kansas City, Mo.-based engineering and design company tapped to redesign the jail’s eight exercise yards, called the fully enclosed model a “permanent solution” to the security flaws that allowed Cavalcante to scale the prison walls and evade razor wire during his Aug. 31 escape.

Although the jail has already added more razor wire and panels of fine mesh to cover the gap that Cavalcante used to access the rooftop, acting Warden Howard Holland floated a host of additional security upgrades for the Chester County prison.

Those include adding at least 50 new cameras to the prison, and hiring eight additional corrections officers — at least some of whom will monitor security footage around the clock.

The prison board, comprised of Chester County officials whom residents called on Monday to revamp prison security after the exhaustive two-week manhunt for Cavalcante, voted to approve both of Holland’s suggestions.

TranSystems, which has designed correctional facilities in 40 other Pennsylvania counties, presented the Chester County board with several design options for its exercise yards during Wednesday’s public meeting.

The board’s selected design includes fully enclosed exercise yards, with 18-foot-high solid masonry walls in place of fencing, and removes shed roofs that could be scaled by inmates.

The plan also calls for removing basketball hoops, and adding an LED lighting system that “can mimic natural daylight,” the company said. The design notably lacks the flow of sunlight into the yard from overhead, save for a small ribbon of windows at the top of the walls, which are guarded by secure screening.

In addition to deterring further escape attempts, the enclosed model would prevent the possibility of contraband entering the facility by drone or other remote device, said Brad Endler, TranSystems vice president of architecture and engineering.

Two other designs presented to the Chester County prison board offered direct sunlight, but the designs could have compliance issues with guidelines from the American Correctional Association, according to TranSystems.

TranSystems said it will also reinforce the temporary security additions introduced by the jail. The company said that project, which would add a solid metal ceiling between the yard and the roof, will take several weeks to complete.

Funding for the approved projects will come from Chester County’s remaining allotment from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan, according to Commissioner Josh Maxwell.

Holland also suggested GPS bracelet monitoring for select inmates, a new alarm system, and a drone program for remote-controlled facility monitoring. Those proposals have yet to go to a vote.

The board plans to hold another public meeting on Tuesday.

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