Six Inmates Escape Ohio Prison
Jul. 26, 1998
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (AP) _ Six inmates, including four convicted murderers, took advantage of what may have been a planned a distraction during a recreation period Saturday and escaped from the state's only private prison, authorities said.
One prisoner, who was serving time for assault with a deadly weapon, was caught by early evening. Two inmates may have hitchhiked on the nearby Pennsylvania Turnpike together, the State Highway Patrol said.
The inmates could be returning to their Washington D.C., homes, so authorities in northeastern Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia were alerted to the escape.
The private prison, with 1,550 inmates, has been plagued with problems since it opened in May 1997. Two inmates have been killed inside its walls and prison operators said there have been at least 13 stabbings.
At about 2:40 p.m., officials at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center discovered holes had been cut in the fenced part of the recreation area, Warden Jimmy Turner said in a statement. The prison was locked down and within 45 minutes, authorities discovered who was missing.
Some inmates may have created a distraction that caused officers to leave their assigned positions in the recreation yard, Turner said. An investigation continued.
``I want you to know that we are doing everything in our power to determine what happened here and are committed to ensuring that nothing like this ever happens again in the future,'' he said.
The break happened on the north side of the prison, where authorities found a 4-foot gap in the fence.
``They used powerful wire cutters,'' Hagan said.
Inmates had to go over razor wire to escape. Authorities found a bloody prison uniform nearby, he said. Authorities said the inmates took off their white uniforms and split up.
Officers and police dogs were searching woods near the prison and found three uniforms.
The caught prisoner surrendered peacefully about 10 miles southeast of the prison after a resident called authorities, said Robert Kane, chief of detectives for the Youngstown police.
Jamal Heath was injured while escaping and was taken to a hospital, Kane said.
``We couldn't talk to him because he was bleeding, so we called an ambulance and we will interview him as soon as he comes here from the hospital,'' Kane said. ``We don't know how bad the injury is. He wasn't gushing blood. He was bleeding from his hand and leg.''
Heath had changed out of his uniform, Kane said.
``When I asked him where he got the clothes, he just smiled,'' he said.
Prison officials said inmates are allowed to wear street clothes under their uniforms.
The prison was heavily fortified Saturday night, with at least 100 armed officers, along with curious residents who live nearby. Anyone who tried to enter the prison had to show identification and open their hood and trunk.
``I haven't felt uncomfortable with the prison at all,'' said Kate Lempka, who lives nearby. ``I feel that anything that brings more police to the neighborhood is a good thing. I'm really not concerned, until today.''
CCA, the nation's largest private prison operator, built the 411,000-square-foot prison in a valley surrounded by junkyards and abandoned factories.
CCA has said changes are under way to make the prison that mostly houses inmates from Washington, D.C., safer.
The company invested $67 million but also got a sweetheart deal from the city including a tax abatement and free utility hookups. In exchange, Youngstown got 500 jobs from the prison.
Local officials welcomed the prison to the economically depressed region, which is about 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh and once flourished with steel mills.
At a March hearing before U.S. District Judge Sam Bell, former guard Don Lane testified that he quit his job because he feared for his life. Guards didn't care about prisoners' safety and were told not to hurry if there was a fight between inmates, he said.
Some state lawmakers also have been critical of the prison.
Sen. Rhine McLin, chairwoman of the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee, said she was turned away from touring the prison when she and others made a surprise visit this spring.
Prison operators apologized to McLin and said the staff was not aware of a state law passed in March that allowed the committee to inspect the prison. The law also set other standards for inmate care.