In the past 18 months, 29 inmates have escaped from federal prisons across the United States, and nearly half of them still they have not been recaptured. In some institutions, doors are left unlocked, security cameras do not work, and officials sometimes take hours to notice that an inmate has disappeared.
In one of the Texas prisons, security it’s so lax that local law enforcement officers privately joke about his apparent “open door policy”.
Prisoners have escaped from prisons in almost 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 in January this year have not yet been caught. His crimes include conspiracy, wire fraud, bank robbery, possession of methamphetamine and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and other drugs.
All escapes occurred in federal prisons minimum security, some of which they don’t even have fences and they house inmates that the Bureau of Prisons considers to be of minimal security risk.
Headquarters of the Office of Prisons of the Department of Justice. Photo: AP
“Anyone can escape any place of confinement at any time of any day,” said Jack Donson, a jail counselor and former case manager at a federal prison in Otisville, New York.
“They are not secure facilities. They don’t have fences or metal detectors. “
Not the most basic function
The figures raise serious concern that the agency, long plagued by chronic mismanagement, misbehavior and a serious staff crisis, is failing to fulfill its most basic function: keeping prisoners in jail.
While a Justice Department budget report filed with Congress indicates that the Bureau of Prisons has not leaked secure facilities, it does not count those escaping from prisons or minimum security confinement centers.
Federal officials often refer to them as “walk-aways”, despite the fact that it is an escape from a federal prison in accordance with the law and police officials maintain that there is still risks to the community when an inmate escapes.
Federal minimum security prisons were originally designed with low security to facilitate operations and allow inmates charged with conducting jobs like gardening and maintenance do not have to go through checkpoints repeatedly to enter and exit the main prison facilities.
Go out and get drugs and come back
However, this lax security has not only opened a door to smuggling, it is also the source of most leaks of the prison system.
Aside from the Texas escapes, corrections officers have also discovered that inmates leave the prison grounds to collect drugs and another type of contraband that is left in the woods and then the illegal items are carried inside the prison.
It is customary at the Beaumont Federal Correctional Facility for cars to drop drugs, cell phones, and other contraband in the woods for inmates to escape the prison at night and collect items before they leave. sneak back in, according to a prison official with knowledge of the matter.
The official was not authorized to comment publicly on the investigations and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Unlike maximum security prisons, prisons do not have fences or metal detectors. Photo: AP
The Texas leaks, at least, have caught the attention of the Justice Department inspector general. The bureau this week issued a memorandum highlighting glaring security deficiencies at Beaumont and other minimum security federal correctional institutions.
In one case, four inmates slipped away and their absence went unnoticed for more than 12 hours, despite prison officials conducting three nighttime inmate counts in that span, according to an inspector general report. Inmates they put mannequins on their beds to deceive prison officers, according to the report.
“They are facilities very small and unsafe, “said Cameron Lindsay, a retired Bureau of Prisons director who now testifies as an expert witness on prison matters.
Due to their size and the generally low risk to inmates, federal minimum security prisons tend to have the lowest staffing levels in the Bureau of Prisons system. Sometimes there are only one officer per shift to supervise inmates, Lindsay noted.
In a statement, the Bureau of Prisons said that it strives to ensure security in each of its correctional facilities and that when an inmate “escapes” from a prison, officials notify other security agencies and the media. .
The agency stressed that inmates who are placed in minimum security institutions are less dangerous offenders they “pose minimal risk to the community” and are generally allowed to participate in outdoor work programs and other initiatives.
“The Bureau of Prisons remains vigilant in its efforts to ensure that institutions are safe at all times,” the agency said. Officials said that a review is carried out after each leak to determine “if there is some weakness on safety and, if warranted, corrective action is taken. “
The Bureau of Prisons has suffered from chronic violence, significant security problems and a persistent shortage of staff for years. Photo: AP
Officials said that in Beaumont they are building a fence around the prison, repairing door alarms that are broken, adding and improving video cameras and placing additional lights. The agency reported that it is also evaluating the possibility of adding more personnel in some minimum security correctional facilities.
“We take very seriously our duty to protect the people entrusted to us, as well as to maintain the safety of prison staff and the community,” agency officials said in the statement.
The Bureau of Prisons has suffered from chronic violence, significant security problems and a persistent shortage of staff for years. The AP reported last month that nearly a third of federal prison officer positions in the United States are vacant, forcing prisons to turn to cooks, teachers, nurses and other workers. to monitor inmates.
The widespread use of that practice raises questions about whether the agency can accomplish the tasks necessary to ensure the safety of inmates and staff members while implementing the programs and classes required by law.
The Bureau of Prisons insists that, with its latest hiring initiative, it is bringing in additional staff to fill gaps.
Translation: Elisa Carnelli