State implements new notification system for prison escapes

August 20, 2004|HERB BROCK

At 8:30 every night Tom Stocker hears the ear-splitting sound of sirens being tested at nearby Northpoint Training Center. And so do some critters who live in the mile-long field that separates his Gwinn Island Road home from the medium-security prison.

"Every time those sirens go off, the coyotes go wild. Those sirens really seem to bother the coyotes," said Stocker.

Hearing the sirens would bother Stocker, too, if he thought they were sounding a real emergency, like an escape. But over the 13 years he's lived on Gwinn Island Road, the sounds he's heard every evening have been a test, not the real thing.

"The sirens make a lot of racket, but they do give me a certain level of comfort knowing the prison is ready if something really happens," he said.

Stocker's comfort level should increase today as the state Department of Corrections announced implementation of a new escape notification system. The announcement was made by Corrections Commissioner John D. Rees at a press conference at the Kentucky State Reformatory at La Grange.


Residents can register to be notified of an escape

Under the new system, residents of the communities where the state's 12 prisons are located, as well as the media in those communities, may register their phone numbers so they may be notified of an escape. To register, call 1-866-445-2867.

When there is an escape, the prison immediately will call all of those phone numbers that have been registered and deliver a pre-recorded, automated message with that fact. The prison will not release the name or names of escapees, how many inmates have escaped, their crimes, race or any other information except that there has been an escape.

When the escapee or escapees have been apprehended, the prison will call all those who have registered with the system and notify them the prisoner or prisoners are back in custody.

The prison will continue to issue press releases to the media, with more detailed information, when there are escapes and apprehensions.

"This escape notification system plan will be another step towards ensuring the safety of residents of the commonwealth of Kentucky," said Commissioner Rees at today's press conference.

The decision to take the step was made when the Department of Corrections was looking for a new way to handle escape notifications in La Grange, where there are three state prisons. The prisons had long lists of La Grange residents wanting to be notified, and the notifications were all handled manually with prison personnel having to make individual calls to each person on the lists.

A similar manual notification process has been used at Northpoint, according to prison spokesperson John M. Dunn.

"If there was an escape, we contacted individuals in the community who had agreed to be contacted, and this meant a staff member had to call each individual to tell them we had an escape and (the staff member) probably spent several minutes with each individual explaining what was going on," said Dunn. "It really wasn't a system, at least compared to the one we now have."

In an effort to find a more efficient, less time-consuming notification system, the Department of Corrections turned to Appriss Inc. for a solution. Appriss is the Louisville-based firm that developed the VINE victim notification system in 1996 that has been used by the Department of Corrections and other local, state and federal criminal justice agencies in Kentucky and other states.

Appriss recently created the escape notification system - called AlertXpress - and made it part of its VINE system at no extra cost to the department and at no charge to residents who register with it.

Few escapes from Northpoint

Dunn likes the new notification system, and he believes the residents of the areas of Boyle and Mercer counties next to Northpoint will as well.

"We feel this system will be a great asset to not only the prison but the community as a whole in the event of an escape," said Dunn, stressing, however, there have been few escapes from the 1,100-bed Northpoint in its 21 years of existence.

According to Department of Corrections spokesperson Lisa Lamb, there have been 94 escapes from the state's 12 prisons in the last three years - none from Northpoint. She said most of the escapes have been from minimum-security prisons; all of the escapes from Northpoint have come from a minimum-security unit housed outside the medium-security fence.

Lamb and Dunn encouraged residents of Boyle and Mercer counties who want to be notified of escapes and apprehensions to call the toll-free registration number as soon as possible, adding that registered numbers will be kept on prison files indefinitely and removed only upon request of the registrants.

Tom Stocker said he will be registering soon.

"Since I started living on Gwinn Island Road in 1991, there haven't been any escapes, or at least none where people came around where I live, and no other problems from Northpoint," he said. "But I think this notification system is a great idea in the rare event there really is an escape, and I plan to register.

"People who live around prisons need to be made aware, as soon as possible, of an escape," he said. "When prisoners escape, most want to leave the area, but they probably need a car to do it. I want to make sure it's not my car that's taken, or my family harmed in the process."

While he welcomes the new notification system, Stocker jokingly wishes Appriss could come up with a solution to another security-related problem.

"I wish they could so something about the loudness or shrillness of those sirens that sound every night at 8:30," he said. "Either tone down the sound of the sirens or the howling of the coyotes, one."

Central Kentucky News Articles