(WHTM) – Pennsylvania’s prison escapes have made national news twice in the past two months. There’ve been a few others and former corrections secretary John Wetzel says it is a trend, and he knows why it’s happening.
Wetzel was Pennsylvania’s Corrections Secretary for 11 years and is now a consultant. He says Danelo Cavalcante‘s Spider-Man escapee caught on camera at the Chester County Prison is laying bare a problem with a tangled web.
“I bet when they designed it, they assumed an officer would be at that door,” said Wetzel. “So now you don’t have an officer at that door? Probably haven’t for a decade because now you’re using cameras. But who’s watching cameras?”
In May, two inmates escaped in Philadelphia. In June, an accused murderer escaped in Warren County. And now, the search for Cavalcante is in its eighth day in Chester County.
“I think it’s at this point we call the trend, you know, three or four escapes in the past six, eight months right here in Pennsylvania.”
Wetzel says the culprit is not enough correctional officers and that those who are working are underpaid.
“If you’re someone who traditionally corrections systems would target to work as a correctional officer and you can make the same or more money working at Sheetz versus working a block, right? So the market has changed and corrections hasn’t caught up.”
Pennsylvania counties are struggling with corrections officers and so is the entire country, Wetzel said. More cash and improved conditions are a start, and better training is also needed. But enticing the guards of tomorrow won’t be easy.
“This generation doesn’t necessarily have the same sensibilities our generation did around things like conflict and stuff,” he says.
Wetzel fears an industry-wide retirement spike is looming and experienced guards will be gone.
“I know we would like to blame politicians, which is cool. I enjoy it. They deserve it for a bunch of stuff. But I mean, if you’re at Sheetz and, you know, you’re 60% of your staff show up, you get kiosks, there’s no kiosks for corrections.”
Wetzel knows most people pay little attention to goings-on behind the wall. But they should, he says, just ask Chester County.
“People around are scared. Schools are closed like what happens inside jails and prisons counts outside.”
The recent escapes have involved local prisons and escapes in state prisons are much more rare. The Department of Corrections says the last state prison escape was in 2007 in Albion.