MADISON — The recent escape of a Somerset County Jail inmate was an aberration and will not require any changes to the jail’s security procedures, the jail’s administrator has concluded.

The escape of Dylan Perkins, a 20-year-old inmate who bolted in July, was a rare exception to a commonly held belief that minimum security inmates who have earned a position of trust won’t make a dash to freedom.

“For most of them, it just comes down to common sense, and to run would be complete foolishness,” said jail Administrator David Allen.

Allen’s conclusion echoes stastics in recent years that show escapes statewide are rare. Prisoners are screened for security risks and the increased penalities typically outweigh any motivation to flee.

Perkins, however, saw an opportunity to flee while working in the East Madison jail’s kitchen. When a food delivery truck backed up to an open doorway to unload supplies, Perkins left through the door and scaled a fence in a matter of seconds.

For a certain segment of the jail’s 168 inmates, the only thing stopping them from making a break for it is the threat of added punishment.

While this was the first escape since the jail was built in 2008, Allen predicted that it would not be the last.

“We have inmates working out in the community that could do the same thing,” Allen said. “We’ll probably get into it again. Someone will probably walk off a work crew at some point.”

In July, the same month that Perkins made his attempt, two men walked out of the minimum-security Charleston Correctional Facility before they were recaptured two days later.

Escape artists

In 2010, state and federal authorities held 2,154 prisoners in Maine, according to U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics.

Only a small fraction of inmates — estimates range from about half of 1 percent to 1.5 percent — ever manage to break out of prison, jail or the courthouse, but it does happen.

The lower figure is from a 1998 study from the Bureau of Justice, while the higher estimate is from a 2005 academic study cited by the Department of Justice.

Jailbreaks in the movies are typically the result of meticulous planning, sophisticated strategies and sometimes high-tech gadgetry, but the reality is sharply different.

The escapes generally involve a prisoner who is not in a completely secure setting taking advantage of an opportunity that unexpectedly arises.

For example, a Fairfield man attempted to walk out of the Kennebec County jail last year by posing as another prisoner who was scheduled for release. The same man successfully escaped custody during a trial in Kennebec County Superior Court after he told his attorney that he was ducking outside for a cigarette, and then failed to return. He managed to stay ahead of authorities for more than a year before being taken back into custody.

In another case, a man from Jay managed to destroy a court document that indicated he was to be held without bail, resulting in his accidental 2009 release from Franklin County Detention Center. He remained at large for five weeks before being recaptured.

That same year, three men walked out of Bolduc Correctional Facility in two separate incidents in Warren. All three were recaptured within two weeks of their escape.

Other security breaches result in escape from a cell, but not the entire jail, as happened this March, when it was discovered that an inmate at Cumberland County jail was picking his lock and sneaking out of his cell to have sex with a female inmate. He drew no additional charges for the incident, but is serving an 18-year sentence. A few other inmates at the jail had successfully slipped from their maximum security cells by picking the locks or packing plastic into the locks to prevent latching.

Trusted

While it may seem unwise to give jail inmates an opportunity to escape, escapees are generally those who have been identified as having a low-flight risk and are in minimum security areas.

Inmates like Perkins, who inexplicably escaped confinement, fall within an acceptable margin of error in a system that gives certain inmates more freedom than others.

Allen said that to guard prisoners on work detail so closely that they couldn’t ever escape would be cost-prohibitive.

“It would have to be a one-on-one situation outside of here, and that’s just not feasible,” he said. “Right now, we have just one officer watching 10 or 15 at a time.”

At Somerset County Jail, an inmate classified as medium security would never have been able to escape as easily as Perkins.

But Perkins had been identified as a trustee, an inmate with earned privileges, including the right to work in an insecure setting, like the kitchen he bolted from.

During the first 72 hours in custody at Somerset County, a prisoner undergoes a process that includes fingerprinting, photographing, giving up personal items, physical- and mental-threat screenings, and issuance of prison gear that includes everything from standard-issue clothing to their own, personal spork, a utensil that serves as both spoon and fork. At the same time, jail staff tries to determine whether they have any close friends or enemies in the jail that they should be separated from.

During this period, prisoners are in a higher-security setting, and the chances of escape are slim.

At the end of the intake period, prisoners are given a security classification, typically as a medium security inmate, which lands them in the E pod, one of four areas of the jail.

Over time, a prisoner who meets certain criteria can be given more freedom within the jail.

“They work their way from our E pod over to our D pod,” Allen said.

With different classifications come different privileges, including access to work-release programs and trustee designations, which can get a prisoner on a work crew in the community or in the kitchen.

“They become eligible after serving a third of the sentence,” Allen said.

In order to be able to work in a low-security area, trustees must be free of disciplinary action, have passed all drug tests and demonstrate a general cooperative manner.

Their record is also reviewed to see what other charges they might face. A prisoner who has been charged with a crime that carries a weighty sentence would pose a flight risk, and those who have been convicted of a violent crime are not eligible.

Those who are eligible have a big incentive to maintain the standards of the program, as they earn time off their sentence for the work they perform.

In Perkins’ case, he did have a pending misdemeanor forgery charge, but Allen said that he didn’t face enough additional jail time for it to be considered a factor.

“He had some pending charges but they weren’t serious charges, and they weren’t pressing charges,” Allen said.

Even after reviewing the records, Allen said that he saw no red flags that would have made it possible to predict that Perkins would try to flee.

Like others in his situation, Perkins had everything to lose and nothing to gain from the escape.

“The sentence is so light, that if they try to escape, the time that they’re facing is a lot more than the time that they’re doing,” Allen said.

Had Perkins not attempted to run, he would probably have been released by now. He had just 10 days left on the sentence that he was serving.

Instead, he will serve his years in a state prison for the escape attempt with no opportunity to earn time off in a work-release program.

“He now has this escape on his record, and he’s now a maximum security prisoner,” Allen said.

Short trip

Perkins is not alone. The large majority of escaped prisoners are quickly recaptured, with estimates ranging from about 75 percent in one study to more than 96 percent according a state report in Florida.

Most of them don’t last on the lam for more than a couple of days, as was the case with a 19-year-old who escaped handcuffs and a Clinton police car earlier this month and was recaptured two days later. He now is being held without bail in the Kennebec County jail.

Once recaptured, the chances of a person making another escape are remote, resulting in a far less pleasant prison experience, Allen said.

“You are basically locked down 24-7, and allowed out five days a week for just one hour,” he said. “It’s quite a different circumstance. He’s probably realizing he made a huge mistake.”


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