WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Security at a federal prison camp in the Texas city of Beaumont was so lax that four inmates managed to escape by placing dummies in their beds or having other prisoners pose as them, the U.S. Justice Department’s internal watchdog said on Monday.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz said his office uncovered a wide range of security failures at prison camps and satellite campuses of the Bureau of Prisons, from leaving doors unlocked or using locks that were susceptible to tampering, to having limited fencing or not enough video surveillance.
Such facilities typically house inmates deemed to be low-risk, such as those convicted of minor drug crimes or white-collar offenses. Some inmates have managed to escape these facilities or bring in contraband, Horowitz said.
In a memo on security at federal prisons, Horowitz described the escape of four inmates from the Beaumont site. It said the inmates managed to escape for more than 12 hours by placing dummies in their beds to make it look like they were in their cells or by having fellow inmates pose as them. The subterfuge succeeded despite guards making three overnight inmate counts.
Bureau of Prisons spokesperson Kristie Breshears said the escape occurred on Jan. 12, 2019. Breshears said three of the inmates were returned to custody within hours, but the fourth remains at large. The bureau did not provide this inmate’s identity or the crime for which he was convicted.
The disappearance of the four inmates was discovered during a morning count of inmates, the memo said. Two of the four apparently left the prison to obtain some form of contraband, it added.
“We found that the outer doors of separate buildings within the satellite prison camp at FCC (Federal Correctional Complex) Beaumont were unsecured in that they were unlocked, were unmanned, were not equipped with surveillance cameras, and had either nonfunctioning alarms or alarms that could be manipulated by inmates,” Horowitz said.
“Gaps in security at federal prison camps and satellite prison camps present risks that inmates will escape and, if they return, smuggle contraband back into facilities undetected, which endangers the community,” Horowitz added.
Breshears said the Beaumont facility has already begun efforts to improve security, including adding a perimeter fence, repairing door alarms and adding video surveillance.
“The vast majority of the enhancements have been completed,” Breshears said. “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.”
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Will Dunham)