(The Warren County Board of Commissioners held a conference on Wednesday afternoon. Watch it in the video player below.)
WARREN, Pa. (WIVB) — The escape of Michael Burham has people wondering what should be done to improve security at the Warren County Jail.
Burham, a homicide suspect also facing charges of rape and arson, broke out of incarceration this past Thursday night. Described by police as a “self-taught survivalist,” he’s been on the run ever since.
The prime suspect in the Jamestown death of Kala Hodgkin, 34, Burham was previously on the run before being found nearly two weeks later in South Carolina.
After his recent escape, the Warren County Board of Commissioners, with the Prison Board, came together to review the circumstances of what happened.
“The City of Warren Police are conducting a criminal investigation into the escape but neither they, nor City Administration have any management responsibility to the Warren County Jail,” a statement from the Warren County Board of Commissioners read.
Information not directly involved with the criminal investigation was reviewed by the Prison Board and Commissioners. As a result, Warren County says repairs to the roof of the prison yard are necessary.
The prison yard was described as a 40 x 40 room with a cage on the facility’s top floor.
“Essentially, it’s a box that is on the top level of the jail,” Warren County Commissioner Jeff Eggleston said. “The roof, there is a square hole in it that has a chainlink fence on top of steel girders, on top of it…There are pieces that hold that fence down. Those were broken, and so that was the hole that allowed him to escape through the roof.”
Burham’s escape involved bed sheets and elevating himself on exercise equipment. The commissioners and the prison board have since ordered the removal of the exercise equipment, so that equipment that doesn’t allow for higher positioning can take its place.
Structural changes are expected to be completed before the week’s end. Other long-term upgrades are expected to be wrapped up in the next few weeks, they said.
In addition to these changes, inmate access and observation is also under review, but due to law changes in recent years, “prisoners must have access to yard time and outside exercise,” the board says.
“Changes will be made to increase security in that space…With a facility as small as ours that is close to full, inmates must be taken to the yard in shifts. That happens all day and evening to ensure all inmates have appropriate yard time,” the board said.
The board said it’s planning to hold a vote on a potential contract with the Pennsylvania State Department of Corrections to fully investigate the prison, in addition to the department’s annual inspection of the facility.
Ben Kafferlin, vice chair of the Warren County Board of Commissioners, said “everyone is a stakeholder in this manhunt,” sharing his personal regret over Burham’s escape and the resulting fear caused by it.
“Warren County is conducting a rigorous internal investigation,” Kafferlin said. “We’re reviewing every second of video surveillance, taking statements, reviewing time stamps, tag out sheets, and interviewing every individual who may have information, whether they’re inside or outside the jail.”
Kafferlin, saying officials are “not on a witch hunt,” made it clear that they’re going to seek justice, even if that means the county’s own employees facing disciplinary action.
He continued by saying the law requires them to keep those disciplinary actions confidential, meaning the public likely won’t hear about it.
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