News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

April 17, 2011

Wabash Valley Correctional Facility adds security ‘stun fence’

Carlisle — A stunning addition to security has been added at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility.

The “non-lethal electrified perimeter” is the sixth such “stun fence” installed at an Indiana state prison, and replaces an obsolete “shaker” system that detected the motion of a person trying to climb the fence.

“This will not kill anyone. It will not stop a heartbeat,” said Kevin Orme, director of construction services for the Indiana Department of Correction.

Unlike some western states that have selected a lethal electrified fence system for their prison facilities, Indiana has gone the non-lethal route, Orme told the WVCF advisory board.

Six years ago, Indiana “started looking for a better mousetrap,” Orme said, and finally settled on a system developed in New Zealand and Australia. The fence selected for Wabash Valley operates with 16 energized zones located around the system that send out an active electronic pulse three times per second. The fence detects interference in the electromagnetic field around each wire, and any disruption sends out an alarm that can immediately be investigated.

The fence, situated between two other non-electrified fences that are topped with razor wire, is 15 feet tall. If a person inside the facility does make it past the first fence and attempts to climb onto the stun fence, that person is in for a nasty shock. The wires of the fence will collapse onto a climber, so that even if the person drops back to the ground, it is likely the person will be wrapped in a pulsing electrified armor.

“I know how the system works. I couldn’t defeat it,” Orme said, referring to training he attended in Arkansas. “Nowhere in the country has anyone ever defeated this system.”

Signs alerting people to the electrified nature of the fence will be posted at regular intervals as a deterrent.

Orme said the fence has no effect on wildlife. Birds can land on it.

The fence allows the facility to conserve manpower through relocation of some watchtower staff. But it is not a replacement for the human element, he said. The prison will still have regular patrols of the perimeter fence to look for damage as well as contraband intended for inmates that might be thrown over the fence.

Prison Superintendent Richard Brown said there has been no evaluation yet on which towers to close. But any staff relocated from a tower can be placed inside the prison for more effective use of staff.

The cost of the new system is $750,000, Orme said. A Noblesville company is installing the system, and all of the contractors on the project are from Indiana, so the project has economically helped Hoosiers.

Roger Dagley, physical plant director at WVCF, said a work crew began pulling down razor wire on the old fence on March 1, and the new fence was installed by March 30. Some additional work on the wiring remains to be done, he said.

The internal power supply in the fence lasts for three days, Orme said, so even if the power grid goes down, the fence will be electrified until a portable generator can be brought in to take over power supply.

The fence can also handle ice buildup, and is impervious to wind and weather. It might be breached by a fallen tree, he said, but a repair crew is available to be onsite within a day or two.

The prison used offender labor to remove the razor wire. A hand-picked crew of minimum-security offenders learned the process quickly, and they were soon removing about 800 feet of the dangerous wire per day. All of the used razor wire has been collected and will be distributed to another correctional facility as needed.

Jim Basinger, director of adult facilities for the Department of Correction, said the last attempted escape from inside the prison was around 1997, but it wasn’t through the fence. In fact, most escapes from the nation’s prisons are attempted through a gate, he said. Prisoners will try to change into stolen guard uniforms to leave, or try to conceal themselves inside a container or vehicle. WVCF did have an inmate walk away from an exterior work detail on one occasion.

Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com.

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