Prison break: 29 inmates escape federal lockups in 18 months

Jun 10, 2021, 9:31 PM | Updated: Jun 11, 2021, 3:45 am
FILE - In this Aug. 28, 2020, file photo, a no trespassing sign is displayed outside the federal pr...

FILE - In this Aug. 28, 2020, file photo, a no trespassing sign is displayed outside the federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Ind. Over the past 18 months, 29 prisoners have escaped from federal lockups across the U.S. - and nearly half still have not been caught. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Over the past 18 months, 29 prisoners have escaped from federal lockups across the U.S. — and nearly half still have not been caught. At some of the institutions, doors are left unlocked, security cameras are broken and officials sometimes don’t notice an inmate is missing for hours.

At one Texas lockup, security is so lax that local law enforcement officials privately joke about its seemingly “open-door policy.”

Prisoners have broken out at lockups in nearly every region of the country. Twelve of the inmates who escaped in 2020 — from prisons in Florida, California, Louisiana, Texas and Colorado — remain at large. Two others who escaped since January this year have also not yet been caught. Their crimes include racketeering, wire fraud, bank robbery, possession of methamphetamine and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and other drugs.

All of the escapes happened at minimum-security federal prison camps, some of which don’t even have fences, and house inmates the Bureau of Prisons considers to be the lowest security risk.

“Anybody can escape from any camp any minute of any day,” said Jack Donson, a prison consultant and former case manager at a federal prison in Otisville, New York. “They’re not secure facilities. They have no fence, no metal detectors.”

The numbers raise serious concerns that the agency long besieged by chronic mismanagement, misconduct and a severe staffing crisis is failing at performing its most basic function: keeping prisoners in prison. While a Justice Department budget report submitted to Congress said the Bureau of Prisons had no escapes from secure facilities, it does not count those who escape from minimum-security prisons or camps.

Federal officials often refer to them as “walk-aways,” though it is still an escape from federal prison under the law and law enforcement officials say there is still a risk to the community when an inmate absconds.

Federal prison camps were originally designed with low security to make operations easier and to allow inmates tasked with performing work at the prison, like landscaping and maintenance, to avoid repeatedly checking in and out of a main prison facility. But the lax security has now not only opened a gateway for contraband but is also the source of most of the prison system’s escapes.

Aside from Texas escapees, law enforcement officials have also routinely learned of inmates at the prison just walking off the grounds to retrieve drugs and other contraband that is dropped off in the woods and then bringing the illegal items back inside with them.

It has become routine at FCI Beaumont for cars to drop drugs, cellphones and other contraband in the woods, leaving them for inmates to break out of the prison at night and pick up the items before sneaking back inside, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the matter. The official could not discuss the investigations publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The Texas escapes, at least, have attracted the attention of the Justice Department’s inspector general. The office issued a memorandum this week highlighting glaring security gaps at Beaumont and other federal prison camps.

In one case, four inmates sneaked out and went undetected for more than 12 hours even though prison officials conducted three inmate counts overnight during the 12-hour period, according to an inspector general’s report. The inmates put dummies in their beds to trick the officers, the report said.

“These are very small, unsecure facilities,” said Cameron Lindsay, a retired Bureau of Prisons warden who now testifies as an expert witness on prison matters. Because of their size and the generally low risk the inmates pose, federal prison camps often have the lowest levels of staffing in the Bureau of Prisons’ system, sometimes with just one officer working to supervise inmates during a shift, he said.

In a statement, the Bureau of Prisons said that it strives to ensure safety and security at every one of its prisons and that when an inmate “walks away” from a prison, officials will notify other law enforcement agencies and the media. The agency stressed that the inmates who are placed at the minimum-security camps are the lowest risk offenders who “pose minimal risk to the community” and generally are allowed to participate in outdoor work programs and other initiatives.

“The BOP remains vigilant in its efforts to maintain safe and secure institutions at all times,” the agency said. Officials said a review is conducted following every escape to determine “if any security weakness exists and if warranted, corrective actions are taken.”

In Beaumont, officials said they were building a fence around the prison, repairing the broken door alarms, adding and upgrading video cameras and putting up additional lights. The agency said it was also considering adding additional staff members at some of the prison camps.

“We take seriously our duty to protect the individuals entrusted in our custody, as well as maintaining the safety of correctional staff and the community,” agency officials said in the statement.

The Bureau of Prisons has been plagued by chronic violence, significant security issues and persistent staffing shortages for years. The AP reported last month that nearly one-third of federal correctional officer jobs in the United States are vacant, forcing prisons to use cooks, teachers, nurses and other workers to guard inmates.

The expanded use of that practice, known as augmentation, has been raising questions about whether the agency can carry out its required duties to ensure the safety of prisoners and staff members while putting in place programs and classes required under the law.

The Bureau of Prisons insists its latest hiring initiative is bringing on additional personnel to close the gaps.

___

Sisak reported from New York.

___

On Twitter, follow Michael Balsamo at twitter.com/mikebalsamo1 and Michael Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak. Send confidential tips by visiting https://www.ap.org/tips/

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

The National Labor Relations Board's top prosecutor, Jennifer Abruzzo, poses for a portrait at Nati...
Associated Press

NLRB’s top prosecutor seeks big changes, faces uphill battle

As workers at major companies increasingly move to unionize, the political environment for labor couldn’t be more ripe. Perhaps nowhere is that more accurate than at the National Labor Relations Board, the agency that enforces the country’s labor laws and oversees union elections. In the past year, the Biden-appointed top prosecutor Jennifer Abruzzo has been […]
8 hours ago
Associated Press

Off-duty officer charged with assault at abortion protest

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A Rhode Island police officer accused of punching a woman at an abortion protest while he was off-duty has now been charged in connection with Friday’s demonstration at the State House. In a Saturday evening news release, state police said Providence patrolman Jeann Lugo, 35, was charged with simple assault and […]
8 hours ago
FILE - A Ghadr-H missle, center, a solid-fuel surface-to-surface Sejjil missile and a portrait of t...
Associated Press

Iran launches rocket into space as nuclear talks to resume

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian state television said Sunday that Tehran had launched a solid-fueled rocket into space, drawing a rebuke from Washington ahead of the expected resumption of stalled talks over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers. It’s unclear when or where the rocket was launched, but the announcement came after satellite photos […]
8 hours ago
FILE - Wallace Reid purchases fuel for the vehicle he drives to make a living using ride-share apps...
Associated Press

Greedflation: Is price-gouging helping fuel high inflation?

WASHINGTON (AP) — Furious about surging prices at the gasoline station and the supermarket, many consumers feel they know just where to cast blame: On greedy companies that relentlessly jack up prices and pocket the profits. Responding to that sentiment, the Democratic-led House of Representatives last month passed on a party-line vote — most Democrats […]
8 hours ago
FILE - Wallace Reid purchases fuel for the vehicle he drives to make a living using ride-share apps...
Associated Press

Did corporate greed fuel inflation? It’s not biggest culprit

WASHINGTON (AP) — Furious about surging prices at the gasoline station and the supermarket, many consumers feel they know just where to cast blame: On greedy companies that relentlessly jack up prices and pocket the profits. Responding to that sentiment, the Democratic-led House of Representatives last month passed on a party-line vote — most Democrats […]
8 hours ago
Gabby Giffords, center, the subject of the documentary film "Gabby Giffords Won't Back Down," poses...
Associated Press

Giffords documentary comes as gun debates stay center stage

In the two years documentary filmmakers shadowed former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, the most jarring moment for them was in the kitchen of her Tucson, Arizona, home. As cameras were rolling, she and her husband, Sen. Mark Kelly, nonchalantly opened the freezer. Kelly grabbed a plastic container and revealed it holds the piece of Giffords’ skull […]
8 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Vaccines are safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Are you pregnant? Do you have a friend or loved one who’s expecting?
...
CANVAS ANNUITY

Best retirement savings rates hit 4.30%

Maximize your retirement savings with guaranteed fixed rates up to 4.30%. Did you know there is a financial product that can give you great interest rates as you build your retirement savings and provide you with a paycheck for life once you retire? It might sound too good to be true but it is not; this product is called an annuity.
Prison break: 29 inmates escape federal lockups in 18 months