Lawmaker: Prison land sale may pose safety threat

A state lawmaker said he's worried that an upcoming sale of land around two Pendleton prisons could pose a public safety threat by reducing the buffer zone between the prison complex and a nearby elementary school.

Democratic state Rep. Scott Reske said the sale of nine tracts of land surrounding the Pendleton Correctional Facility would cut in half a state-owned buffer zone between Pendleton's Fall Creek Elementary School and the town's two prison facilities.

While no inmate has escaped from either Pendleton prison in the last 10 years, Reske told The Herald Bulletin in Anderson that he's worried an escaped inmate could make his way to the elementary school.

"If they escape they're not going into Pendleton or toward the detention center, they're going to head to the tracks toward the elementary school," he said.

Reske said it's his understanding that once the land is sold and becomes private property, prison guards will stop patrolling those areas.

But state Department of Administration spokeswoman Connie Smith said that won't be the case, and guards will continue patrols in the area Reske is worried about.

"The Department of Correction will continue the same patterns of patrols, there will be no lack of patrol," she said.

The property will be auctioned Jan. 19 at an Anderson hotel. Smith said the Department of Administration decided to sell the land because it was no longer being farmed by correctional facility staff and inmates.

She said the land sale will add 658 acres to the county's tax base.

"There's surplus land, they need the money, I totally agree. But state policy says that ground should stay under public control," Smith said.

Scott Henderson, president of the Pendleton Town Council, said he understands Reske's concerns, but added there is some merit to adding land into the county's tax roll.

Henderson also said he's spoken with officials from the Department of Correction and the town of Ingalls to discuss plans to turn a stone quarry that had been used by prison staff into a public park.

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