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Chester County officials say prison security is being bolstered after Cavalcante escape

Chester County officials said security upgrades had been made to the facility convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante escaped from after he was captured on Wednesday, but that security contractors were further reviewing procedures.

“Chester County Prison officials have made some immediate changes to bolster security in the prison,” the Chester County Commissioners’ Office said in a news statement on Wednesday.

On Aug. 31, at around 8:33 a.m., surveillance footage at Chester County Prison showed Cavalcante, 34, walk to a back wall in the exercise yard area in the C block and press his feet against the wall until he was fully horizontal. He then climbed up the wall until he disappeared from view.

“I think there are questions that Chester County officials are going to have to answer as to how this suspect was able to escape, particularly given the history at that jail,” said Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

Cavalcante escaped from a county prison, which is a facility run by the sheriff’s department. Statistics on jail escapes are hard to collect —the state keeps statistics but says they are “not responsible for over or under-reported figures by the counties.” Chester County reported that the facility had zero escapes in 2022.

Cavalcante had used the same escape route as another Chester County inmate, Igor Bolte. Bolte was arrested and charged on May 19 with escape, according to court documents. The acting warden Howard Holland said a security consultant advised them to “cap the area” with razor wire. But officials didn’t take into account that Cavalcante would break through the razor wire.

Officials “have brought in security contractors to make permanent changes to the exercise yards, and are reviewing and — where needed — changing procedures for both security measures and communication to residents who live close to the prison,” the Chester County Commissioners said. Officials didn’t detail what the changes would be.

Lack of staffing has been suggested as one of the possible reasons for the security lapses. Nationwide, annual turnover in prisons and jails averages 20%, with some states hitting 53% annual turnover. “Inadequate staffing impedes an institution’s ability to deter, prevent, and respond to security threats,” a group of experts convened by the National Institute of Justice found. The corrections officer watching the exercise yard the day Cavalcante escaped was later fired, authorities said.

Cavalcante had been convicted last month of first-degree murder and sentenced to serve life in prison without parole for killing his former girlfriend. He was being held at the county facility while he waited to be transferred to a state prison.

County prisons generally aren’t meant to hold inmates serving long sentences. In 2021, the last available statistics available, Chester County Prison held 595 inmates, and about 400 inmates were pre-trial detainees.

Cavalcante was booked into SCI Phoenix, a state maximum-security prison in Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County on Wednesday afternoon, a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections said.

Reporting was contributed by Stephen Smith and Emily Mae Czachor.

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