In Some Prisons, No Guards Watch from the Watchtowers

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In a maximum security federal prison in California, convicted carjacker Guaymar Cabrera Hernandez made a run for it, says USA Today. A key to his brazen escape last month: Five guard towers ringing the perimeter of the compound were not staffed. Turns out, they have been empty for nearly six years. Instead, prison officials at the U.S. Penitentiary Atwater have been relying on three layers of fencing, including an electrified barrier known as a “lethal fence” — which the 26-year-old Guatemalan inmate easily defeated in a run to freedom that passed directly beneath two of the empty towers, according to two officials.

So alarmed by the breach, the warden staged a video re-enactment of the escape, featuring a correctional officer scaling the same section of the fence. The video demonstrated how to avoid tripping a potentially lethal jolt of electricity, according to one of the officials who has viewed the tape. The unusual video, recorded shortly after Hernandez was recaptured on May 13, has since been sent to the Bureau of Prisons headquarters in Washington. Yet the towers at Atwater remain unstaffed. The breach has now drawn the scrutiny of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which is exploring the increased reliance on fencing technology at the nation’s most secure prison facilities —  in lieu of tower officers who once represented the last line of defense against escape and other disturbances.

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