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 …read more
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