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Chester County officials plan major prison updates

Security samples: A proposed renovation to Chester County Prison is shown during a Chester County Prison Board meeting on Sept. 20, which would entirely close off the existing outdoor prison yards. Design and engineering firm TranSystems proposed three possible security upgrades for Chester County Prison at the meeting.

By Aren Framil, Co-News Editor

In the wake of Danilo Cavalcante’s escape from Chester County Prison and the subsequent two-week search for the missing inmate, Chester County officials set out to update the prison’s security measures to prevent similar situations in the future. While resident feedback has largely been supportive of bolstering prison security, county officials are still discussing the question of exactly how they should go about doing so.

Since Cavalcante’s capture on Sept. 13, Chester County commissioners have held three town hall meetings — two at Pocopson Elementary School and one at Owen J. Roberts Middle School. The meetings intended to provide information to residents about security updates to the prison, outline the emergency communication process and offer mental health and trauma counseling services to those impacted by the incident. The county utilizes an opt-in reverse 911 system to notify residents of local emergencies.

Josh Maxwell, one of the Chester County commissioners in attendance at the town hall meetings, said that county officials are working with TranSystems, an engineering company hired by the county to design and implement prison upgrades to Chester County Prison. Officials are also working with the Pennsylvania Prison Society, an advocacy group for incarcerated individuals, to find the best way to ensure resident and inmate safety.

“We’re going to look at new, innovative ways that we can make sure our yards are impenetrable by either drone or by someone scaling the wall and getting through razor wire,” Maxwell said. “We may also be finding ways that we can add new programming to our prison that’s going to improve outcomes for the people that are in the prison population at the time.”

On Sept. 28, shortly after a meeting of the Chester County Prison Board in which the board approved one of three designs from TranSystems to enclose the current outdoor prison facilities, the Pennsylvania Prison Society posted an update on its website outlining the organization’s concerns with the plan. It states how eliminating outdoor areas for inmates “not only harms incarcerated people, but fails to address the shortage of corrections officers that has made jails throughout Pennsylvania unsafe for people both inside and outside of the walls.”

Now, according to Maxwell, the county is working with both groups to find a balanced solution that benefits both incarcerated individuals and county residents.

“We’ll probably go with a hybrid (of TranSystems’ proposed plans). We have eight (outdoor) yards in Chester County, so there’s an opportunity to do something similar to what TranSystems proposed with a cover, but one that would only be used when it’s (cold) outside or raining,” Maxwell said. “We’re going to be able to provide more yard time for people who are imprisoned even when there’s inclement weather. We’re making sure (inmates are) getting vitamin D and sunlight and also some activity at the same time.”

So far, the prison board has approved the installation of additional razor wire and sheet metal barriers, the purchase of 50 to 75 cameras to be placed around the prison’s perimeter and the hiring of new staff members to monitor the cameras. Junior Aratrika Das believes that ensuring all inmates are monitored is an important factor in preventing future escapes.

“I don’t want to minimize how difficult the job might be, but why was nobody looking (at the cameras)?” Das said. “That’s the very first thing. If you can manage to keep the security around the jail really tight and keep the inmates in jail, then all other things come after that.”

Aren Framil can be reached at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Aren Framil
Aren Framil, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Aren Framil is a junior and the Co-News Editor of The Spoke. He has previously served as a Design Editor and has a passion for visual design and graphics. He covers community events and enjoys investigative reporting on topics such as social justice. Outside of The Spoke, he is classically trained in Western opera and sings in soprano for PhilHarmonia, a choir in Philadelphia. He leads Conestoga's Graphic Design Club, and hopes to make a career in visual design.