3 escaped murderers prompt no review
Violent offenders allowed on state work-release
By Chris Paschenko
DAILY Staff Writer
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Three convicted murderers, including one from Decatur, escaped state custody in fiscal 2005, but prison officials aren't reviewing the way they handle inmates who work beyond bars and barbed wire.
State legislators and supporters of victims' rights question the state's practice of allowing convicted murderers to work, supervised or otherwise, outside prison walls.
Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison, said he was unaware of the state's policy.
"I think those convicted of murder should be behind bars and stay there," Butler said. "Essentially, that's what the public expects, for them to be behind bars. I think that's something the prison commissioner, Mr. (Donal) Campbell, needs to explain."
Limestone Correctional Center in Limestone County is in his Senate district.
In 1991, a Lawrence County jury convicted Decatur resident Carl Brad Ward, 40, in the 1990 stabbing death of Jeanette Smith Little. Ward received a life sentence.
Authorities found Little in her Hillsboro home dead of multiple stab wounds.
Brian Corbett, a Department of Corrections spokesman, said some inmates are automatically barred from working outside prison walls, such as sex offenders, and those convicted of heinous crimes or crimes against children.
The state might not consider a murder heinous if a victim was shot only once, Corbett said.
Ward escaped Sept. 7 while working "under supervision" at a prison warehouse beyond the minimum-security confines of Elmore Correction Facility. His whereabouts are unknown.
Forty-two prisoners escaped state custody since October 2004. Corbett said the state has not had an escape from a major facility in five years. He said one inmate escaped from medium camp, four from minimum camps, 25 from work-release and 12 from community work centers.
"Only 11 are still listed on escape as of Sept. 12," Corbett said. "Of those, four were sentenced for violent crimes, three for murder and one for (felony) assault."
Herman Adkison and Frank Buchanan Jr., both convicted of murder, fled community work centers in Childersburg, and Travis Jackson escaped a work-release facility in Mobile while serving time for second-degree assault, Corbett said.
State correction officials aren't reviewing their inmate supervision policies, Corbett said. He said he doesn't know how many inmates convicted of murder are working outside major state facilities.
Corbett said he could obtain the number only by completing a file-by-file review of every state inmate at each facility. The state has more than 27,000 inmates, Corbett said.
Jeff Emerson, communications director for Gov. Bob Riley, said state prison escapes are down from the previous year when statistics show 71 escapes for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2004.
"Anytime an inmate escapes, it's certainly a serious situation," Emerson said. "There are numerous problems that challenge Alabama's correction system, and these problems have built up over several decades. That's why Gov. Riley created a task force to review our state's corrections system and policies."
In April, Riley created the Governor's Task Force on Prison Overcrowding. Emerson said Riley expects his task force to give him recommendations next month for improving prisons.
But Miriam Shehane, a member of the task force and founder of Victims of Crime and Leniency, said the task force hasn't addressed escapes.
'They will kill you'
"VOCAL is opposed to any murderers on work-release," Shehane said. "(The state) will say they're good workers. Nobody ever said that a murderer is not a good worker, but they will kill you. . . . I'm glad that some legislators are picking up that there is a problem here."
Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, spoke to THE DAILY briefly, questioning why state correction officials housed Ward in a minimum-security prison.
Numerous attempts to reach Rep. Jody Letson, D-Hillsboro, for comment were unsuccessful.
Both lawmakers represent Lawrence County where Ward's victim lived.
Shehane said any convicted murderer who escapes is cause for alarm.
"Even if they don't have any escapes, (murderers) don't deserve the privilege, and it is a privilege, to be on work release," Shehane said. "They should earn their living inside. I believe in working them, but not in street clothes."
Shehane said she and her three sisters grew up on a farm and worked hard in their fields to grow their food.
"When I worked in the field, I was too tired to get into mischief," Shehane said. "So if they want to work them, work them inside a facility. They could plant a garden and grow their own food."
Morgan Sheriff Greg Bartlett said county prisoners convicted of violent crimes are not allowed to work outside his jail.
"You know they'll show their true colors after a while anyway, no matter how well they behave," Bartlett said.
Money may be one reason the state allows convicted murderers to work outside prison walls.
"Inmates at community work centers saved taxpayers $13 million last year by performing labor for various county, city and state agencies," Corbett said. "Plus inmates on work-release return 40 percent of their earnings to the Department of Corrections to help offset the cost of their incarceration."
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