Pickens Co. Prison Changes Security After Inmate Escapes - WSPA.com

Pickens Co. Prison Changes Security After Inmate Escapes

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James Christopher Townsend James Christopher Townsend
PICKENS COUNTY, S.C. - Pickens County Prison is taking new measures to amp up security after an inmate escaped last week.

Deputies were searching for James Christopher Townsend, who walked away from the facility on Prison Camp Road Thursday.  He was eventually caught on July 17th.

Pickens County Prison Director Keith Vinson said he still doesn’t know just how Townsend escaped.

He was last seen on work duty cutting the grass behind the barbed wire fence at 2:30 Thursday afternoon. No one noticed he was missing until roll call at 7 p.m.

Vinson said not a single one of the prison’s 18 cameras caught his escape on video.

He said it’s not unusual for prisoners to try to escape.

“No, they’re always trying to figure out some way. We try to stay one step ahead of them,” said Vinson.

Vinson said Townsend wasn’t checked up on as much as he should have been and a staffing shortage is to blame.

“In just the past month, we’ve had two resignations. We’re a small department. There are 15 of us – that’s counting me. And we have to get kind of creative sometimes,” he said.

Townsend was serving time at Pickens County Prison for failing to pay child support, but a SLED check shows he’s a convicted felon with an 11-page rap sheet.

He was even convicted of trying to escape with a weapon when he was an inmate in 1996.

“It did send up a red flag as to not putting him out here on actual work detail away from the prison,” said Vinson.

Until now, those prisoners who worked on grounds maintenance were not required to check out and in for work.

Vinson said that’s going to change first thing Tuesday morning.

He also said he’s looking into more fencing around the prison and reviewing applications to fill those open staff positions.
 
The prison plans to install 13 more surveillance cameras over the next couple weeks. That was already in the works before now, but Vinson said Townsend’s escape is accelerating their installation.

Vinson estimated in the past four years he’s been on the job, there have been five escapes, including Townsend. He said all of the previous escapees have been caught.

About half of Pickens County prisoners work, which helps take time off their sentences.

The Pickens County Sheriff's Office arrested Townsend on July 17th.
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Jenna Troum
Jenna is a general assignment reporter covering Greenville, Pickens and Laurens Counties.
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