THE MIKE FILES: How do inmates escape?

At the end of September, according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections, there were almost 21,000 inmates in the state, about one third of the total number of offenders. 30 were escapees or walk-aways.

Posted: Nov 14, 2017 10:40 PM
Updated: Nov 14, 2017 10:46 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: Once again, we find ourselves talking about how frequently inmates are escaping from jails around our region. It's a story we seem to cover all too often. And in view of a new renovation plan for the Lee County Jail -- revised down to $8 million dollars from $51 million, will we see even more escapes? Here's WTVA's Mike Russell with another report from The Mike Files.

TUPELO, Miss. (WTVA) - November 5, Triple murder suspect Antoine Adams escapes from the Marshall County Jail in Holly Springs by pushing open a plexiglass window and crawling under a fence. Early September, armed robbery suspect Delvin Moore jams a locking mechanism, fooling jailers into thinking it was locked. he escapes from the Lowndes County jail.Earlier this year, two inmates with Mississippi connections - Cory Dean and Zeppelin Kennedy - escape from the Marion County Jail in Hamilton, Alabama.


Just three months ago, I described three jail escapes similar to these, three of the many in this region - and everywhere I go, people still ask the same question: How is it possible that so many inmates are breaking free? The truth is, as I said before, escapes happen - for a variety of reasons in a multitude of jurisdictions.

In Union County, for example, Sheriff Jimmy Edwards says that prisoners have a lot of time on their hands. They're constantly watchful, looking for a chance to find a weak spot.

In Calhoun County, second-term Sheriff Greg Pollan says he's not had an escape during his 6 years on the job. He says inmates would have to go through four locks before they see the light of day.

In Pontotoc County, Sheriff Leo Mask says a lot of it depends on the inmate's state of mind. He says if they're on drugs, their perspective is constantly shifting - and that makes them harder to predict.

In addition to all these, there is one more contributing factor, and it comes from an experienced sheriff in Lee County.

"A lot of it is employee mistakes," says Sheriff Johnson. He is one of the most tenured sheriffs in the state - and he would be the first to admit that county jail employees sometimes unwittingly contribute to escapes. They might be talked into doing something for an inmate like unlocking an interior door or they might grant some obscure request that leads to an escape opportunity later.

"A lot of it is employee-driven," he adds. "That's something that you really have to stay on your toes - we preach that in our staff's head constantly that, unfortunately, you cannot trust these people. We've seen people that let their guard down for whatever reason, and then, all of a sudden, they're taken advantage off. It goes from one scale to the next - from an employee making a mistake to you can be doing everything right, and they'll figure out a way to escape."

Regardless of the jurisdiction, or the complexity of the security system, inmates are creative, driven, opportunistic, and most of all dangerous and desperate. And sometimes that is compounded by money NOT spent on measures that might prevent or at least slow down escape attempts, especially in a poor state like Mississippi. Facility planners are constantly asking the question....

"Where can we save money, how can we cut back?" says Johnson. "And one way that they did when we built this facility was around our exercise yard, which is in the center of our compound here - they cut back on a lot of the razor wiring and security wiring. And one of the first escapes we had was that particular area."

Of course, there's no such thing as a perfect budget. A new jail plan in Lee County proposes $8 million for expansion and renovation versus a more sophisticated $51 million plan floated previously. Some think it's just a band-aid fix, housing a hundred more prisoners with the same security challenges. But it will be voted on later this month.

"I can tell you one thing that does not help us," adds Johnson.

He's talking about the numerous prisoners' rights regulations he faces every day -- mandates from a variety of institutions that control the way the inmates are housed, treated, and fed. Johnson says they almost have more rights than his own deputies.

"Now there are no federal or state mandates the officers -- how big their office must be or what they must be supplied with," says Johnson. "But for that inmate, it's every square foot accounted for - and you gotta give 'em this, and give 'em that, and give 'em this. And the more that you do that, then the more of a risk you're running of you losing control of what's going on."

Needless to say, running a jail is no easy task. Besides the obvious challenges like overcrowding, staffing, training, monitoring, the costs of providing services and complying with laws, there are politics, gang activity, logistics of health care, mental health care, privatization, and of course, the nature of the criminal mind.

At the end of September, according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections, there were almost 21,000 inmates in the state, about one third of the total number of offenders. 30 were escapees or walk-aways - a tiny fraction, and that's good news. Still, escapees present a clear risk to the rest of us -- and almost everyone would agree that even one escapee on the streets is one too many.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 161516

Reported Deaths: 3916
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto10708104
Hinds10519205
Harrison7555113
Jackson6708128
Rankin6130112
Lee547697
Madison5202110
Forrest400187
Jones382189
Lauderdale3727147
Lafayette344057
Washington3367108
Lamar307550
Lowndes261167
Oktibbeha259962
Bolivar250185
Panola240253
Neshoba2311122
Marshall227151
Leflore213991
Monroe212278
Pontotoc211231
Lincoln200867
Sunflower195555
Warren184958
Tate184051
Union176826
Copiah172540
Pike168360
Pearl River163870
Yazoo162940
Scott162730
Itawamba162637
Alcorn160428
Coahoma157844
Prentiss156732
Simpson155153
Adams148352
Grenada147145
Leake143344
Holmes135761
Covington135541
Tippah132530
George131725
Winston131726
Hancock130942
Wayne124924
Attala124735
Marion124248
Tishomingo114844
Chickasaw112132
Newton112129
Tallahatchie100727
Clay97127
Clarke95653
Jasper88523
Stone83115
Calhoun81513
Walthall79930
Montgomery78826
Carroll76315
Smith75716
Lawrence75214
Yalobusha74428
Noxubee74217
Perry69326
Tunica63519
Greene63022
Jefferson Davis60217
Amite59315
Claiborne59316
Humphreys55719
Quitman5117
Benton50518
Kemper49318
Webster47914
Wilkinson41322
Jefferson38712
Franklin3726
Choctaw3697
Sharkey33117
Issaquena1234
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 260359

Reported Deaths: 3776
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson34716513
Mobile20452370
Madison14215153
Tuscaloosa13755173
Montgomery12731243
Shelby1110278
Baldwin9341137
Lee801566
Morgan722855
Etowah692170
Calhoun6809121
Marshall675058
Houston552739
DeKalb512940
Cullman480246
St. Clair460357
Limestone455046
Lauderdale443357
Elmore432567
Walker3861112
Talladega381157
Jackson361623
Colbert341546
Blount315845
Autauga289342
Franklin262634
Coffee257717
Dale244454
Dallas234932
Chilton233641
Covington232434
Russell23153
Escambia206932
Tallapoosa190291
Chambers187551
Clarke164120
Pike163814
Marion148236
Winston144725
Lawrence137336
Pickens129720
Geneva12818
Marengo126724
Bibb125238
Barbour121429
Butler120042
Randolph107022
Cherokee106724
Hale101432
Fayette99916
Clay94825
Washington93921
Henry8996
Monroe84611
Lowndes82629
Cleburne80714
Macon77122
Crenshaw73330
Conecuh72914
Lamar7258
Bullock70919
Perry6987
Wilcox65518
Sumter59522
Greene44518
Choctaw43519
Coosa3824
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Overcast
49° wxIcon
Hi: 50° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 45°
Columbus
Overcast
50° wxIcon
Hi: 51° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 50°
Oxford
Overcast
46° wxIcon
Hi: 47° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 42°
Starkville
Overcast
48° wxIcon
Hi: 51° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 45°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather