The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Cops, courts and fires

January 7, 2012

Retired guard leads petition against prison land sale

Daughter gathering signatures to take to Statehouse

PENDLETON, Ind. — It’s been more than 10 years since an inmate has escaped the Pendleton Correctional Facility. As retired prison guard Joe Riley says, it’s a pretty picture until you consider an escape is still possible.

Riley, and other Pendleton residents, including Rep. Scott Reske, D-Pendleton, oppose an upcoming land sale of property north and southeast of the prison by the state.

The auction is set for 10 a.m. on Jan. 19 at the Garden Hotel in Anderson and will include nine tracts of land totaling 658 acres.

The Indiana Department of Administration decided to sell the land, because it was no longer being farmed by correctional facility staff and inmates. Previously, a grain, hay and firewood  operation was under the arm of PEN Products. In 2011, PEN sold its Pendleton Correctional Facility Farm equipment at public auction, attracting 121 bidders from Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. The lineup of equipment varied from grain drying equipment, farm tractors, grain and vegetable field production equipment and cattle gates. PEN was to maintain its hay enterprise.

Last week, Reske said he doesn’t want the state to sell the property, because it will take away a buffer zone between the prison and the community. Riley agrees.

“If an inmate escapes, he’s not going toward (State Road) 67, or Ingalls, he’s going into the public, toward the school,” Riley said.

The prison is in close proximity to Maple Ridge Elementary School.

“I worry that someone will escape during the daytime, panicked, their heart rate picking up, run into the school and take a classroom hostage,” Riley said.

Over his 16 years at the facility, Riley said he knew of about 25 escapes. Many hopped the fence, and were found a short time later, others took much longer.

“One day a guy walks in with an inmate, he says, ‘I’ve got an escaped inmate for you, last name Beers,’” Riley said.

Riley recognized the name from a roster of escaped inmates.

“I said, ‘My God, how many years have you been gone?’” Riley said.

The man’s answer: 20 years. He had been living in Florida, working as a construction foreman.

Riley spearheaded a previous effort to stop the land sale over a year ago. However, after undergoing cancer treatment last summer, Riley’s daughter, Kelly Borgman, is taking over for him. Borgman is collecting signatures online, and planned to go door-to-door over the weekend.

“I told (Riley), ‘I’ll put the petition together, but you need to help me,’” Borgman said.

As of Friday night, Borgman had collected 37 signatures; she hopes to have much more by the time she presents it to the Statehouse.

Borgman also worries that if the land is developed, inmates will have more places to hide.

“If the land is sold and you have houses and building there, it’s going to be easier for a prisoner to escape,” Borgman.

Riley said the fact an escape hasn’t happened in over a decade shows the security system is working, but that doesn’t mean the DOC should let up.

“They’re painting a pretty picture, but don’t let the DOC tell me they’re not worried about an escape, they’re worried every day,” Riley said.

Contact Sam Brattain at 640-4883, sam.brattain@heraldbulletin.com

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