Chester County Prison officials had 'concerns about the leadership' year before escape

Officials acknowledged that there were issues with how Chester County residents were informed about the escape from the prison.

ByJared Kofsky and Josh Margolin ABCNews logo
Wednesday, September 20, 2023
Prison officials had 'concerns' about leadership year before escape
Prison officials had 'concerns' about leadership year before escape

WEST CHESTER, Pennsylvania -- Officials in Chester County, Pennsylvania admitted Wednesday that there were failures in official communications following convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante's escape from their county prison on August 31 and that they started having "concerns about the leadership and operations" at the prison a year earlier.

SEE ALSO: Chester County Prison to get major upgrades after inmate's escape, acting warden says

Chester County Prison to get major upgrades after inmate's escape, acting warden says

During the first public meeting of the board that oversees the prison since the escape and two-week manhunt, which drew national headlines, Chester County Commissioner Josh Maxwell told residents the ordeal was "something we never expected to happen here in Chester County, a place where people move to be and feel safe."

"We want to find ways to earn your trust," Maxwell said. "It's going to take more than a day, more than a meeting today. It's going to take weeks and then months and then years without any incidents to earn the community's trust."

He added that Cavalcante was "one of the worst prisoners we have had in terms of crimes they committed."

Maxwell said the board's concerns a year ago prompted them to hire third-party consultants to evaluate conditions at the prison, with one consultant conducting an unannounced inspection there over three days in April that led to recommendations being delivered in July.

"Those recommendations focused on what they believed to be the root cause of concerns, which was leadership within the prison administration," Maxwell said. "Ultimately, corrective actions that were tasked to the previous warden were not satisfactorily undertaken."

One day prior to the escape, the board accepted the resignation of the jail's warden and named Howard Holland as the prison's interim warden. He had spent several months as a "special liaison" to the board during the investigations by consultants.

'Emergency communication was lacking'

Maxwell acknowledged that there were issues with how Chester County residents were informed about the escape from the prison.

"We do understand and believe that notifications and emergency communication was lacking regarding this prison escape and the county's Department of Emergency Services will start to make changes immediately," Maxwell said.

SEE ALSO: DEA releases thermal imaging video that led to Danelo Cavalcante's capture

DEA releases thermal imaging video that led to Danelo Cavalcante's capture

Maxwell noted in the event of any future escape, ReadyChesCo, the county's notification system for residents, will be activated at the same time as the escape alarms.

"In the situation like this, that notification did not go out quick enough. We own that and will ensure that the Department of Emergency Services corrects that for any incident moving forward," Maxwell said.

Changes ahead in Chester County

During Wednesday's meeting, the Chester County Prison Board approved a $94,000 contract with TranSystems to design security upgrades to the prison, including enclosing the yard that was where Cavalcante's escape began.

The board also approved temporary fixes to the prison, including closing off the area above the entrance doors to the prison yard with a security metal soffit, removing basketball hoops and adding correctional officers to the prison yards to supplement the supervision from the guard tower.

During the meeting, representatives from TranSystems shared photos taken inside the prison and offered three possible options for solutions, with the main one being that the prison yards should be fully enclosed with roofing so that detainees cannot climb out of the yard like Cavalcante did.

Cavlacante was captured after 14 days on the run.

He is convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend and also accused of murdering another person in Brazil.

ABC News contributed to this report.

SEE ALSO: Action News travels to Brazil for answers on Danelo Cavalcante, convict who escaped Pa. prison

Action News travels to Brazil for answers on Danelo Cavalcante, convict who escaped Pa. prison