The Herald Bulletin

Afternoon Update

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July 18, 2010

Prison facility installs stun fence, doesn’t reduce tower staff

Officials: Money saved with new technology

ANDERSON – The medium-security prison in Pendleton made a leap forward in  security earlier this month, joining a national trend of installing stun fences to help keep inmates in. But the move doesn’t mean the elimination of tower guards, according to facility personnel.

“It’s another piece of security, more of a deterrent,” said Lt. Eric Niccum, a perimeter supervisor at the Correctional Industrial Facility.

Nationally, stun fences have been touted as cost-savers because they prevent prisons from having to staff old guard towers around the clock. Though citing those cost-saving notions, the Pendleton facility has not eliminated guards, Niccum said.

“Right now, we currently staff all our prison posts,” he said earlier this week. “If it’s going to be a change in staffing, we haven’t decided that yet.”

Meanwhile, Tim Horan, a spokesman for the prison, and Superintendent Tom Hanlon said the fence costs less than manning a tower.

“The cost of the fence and installation was $420,000 and the cost to man a tower for one year is more than half that,” Hanlon said in a news release.

Marc Garrard, a security telecommunications specialist, noted that the fences cost less to maintain.

“There are no repairs to this hardly,” Garrard said. “If a strand breaks, you just clip it back together.”

Lethal stun fences began springing up at federal prisons in 2005. Over the past few years, medium-security prisons have installed nonlethal fences like the one at the Pendleton facility.

Horan said the fence adds a level of security, increasing a nonlethal voltage the longer a person holds on. The voltage is similar to the handheld stun gun that police officers use, he said.

“If an inmate tries to climb or cut through the perimeter fence, he or she will receive a nonlethal jolt of electricity, which causes temporary immobilization,” a news release said.

The news release added that prisons in Branchville, Westville and New Castle had active nonlethal fences, and Wabash Valley Facility is planning one.

Though another level of security, Niccum said, a fence cannot replace the benefits of human eyes.

“There’s always going to be a human element to it, whether it’s in a patrol car or up in the tower,” he said.

That’s the same message that a Pennsylvania corrections officers’ union has argued, as the state decides whether to install stun fences.

Contact Christina M. Wright, 640-4883, christina.wright@heraldbulletin.com.

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