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Geiger adds security amid run of escapes

Sat., June 11, 2005

As local authorities continued to search Friday for a female escapee, officials at Geiger Corrections Center installed cameras that may have thwarted the midweek jail break.

Geiger director Leon Long said he will continue to find ways to upgrade security as long as prisoners search for ways to get over or under the razor wire at the minimum- to medium-security facility.

Since Long arrived at Geiger on Aug. 30, eight inmates have either escaped from the center, been improperly released or run away from officers during transport. If Long had started a day earlier, that count would have been nine escapees.

“They want to see their boyfriends or they want drugs and all of a sudden, bam, bam, bam, people are taking off on us,” Long said. “You would not believe how creative these people are. If they would channel it in the other direction, they could really make something good out of themselves.”

Long described an incident three weeks ago in which an inmate learned that his fiancée was in the women-only dormitory across the Geiger campus. He tried to join her, Long said, but cut his arm to the bone crawling over the razor wire. He would have had to climb another fence and break into a secure building to reach his girlfriend, Long said.

“He took on the razor wire and lost,” Long said.

The most recent escapees, Jaymie C. Fowler and Amanda George, went over a fence Wednesday in an area Long called a “weak spot” for security. Cameras were already on the way to monitor that area. “They just happened to get out before we were able to take care of it.”

Corrections officers caught George only minutes after she scaled the chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. She and Fowler, 21, became the first two female inmates to escape since Geiger officials created the women’s campus last March.

Fowler, who was serving time for assault, remains on the loose. She is white, 5 feet 4 inches tall and 130 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes.

Long said he doubts either woman would have made it over the fence if razor wire, instead of barbed wire, had been installed. The new razor wire was strung Thursday.

Most of Geiger’s inmates have been charged or convicted of property or drug crimes. The facility can house a maximum of 620 inmates, including 100 women in the separate campus. Spokane County has plans to expand the center by 150 beds, Long said.

Since he took the job, Long said he has been working to improve Geiger’s perception as an escape-prone facility.

“That’s implied all the time. We just have to tighten up security,” said Long, whose predecessor, Mike Pannek, now supervises operations at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. “They think they can get away, but they don’t get away.”

Several have, if only for a while.

• Just before Long started working at Geiger, an 18-year-old man used a kitchen mat to protect himself as he scaled the sharp razor wire. Those mats have been removed from the kitchen, Long said.

• In November, three men crawled under a fence that was apparently out of corrections officers’ view. That area is now off limits, Long said.

• In April, a man – who had recently been sentenced to 15 months in prison for a drug conviction – was mistakenly released. Now a shift supervisor must review all paperwork before corrections officers make any releases, Long said.

• During the same week in April, an inmate kicked out the window of a transport van and fled. Long took the vans out of service and had crews install bars on the windows. Long also required corrections officers to place inmates in waist chains and handcuffs before they are transported.

• Then, on June 3, Freddie Joe Hall – one of three local brothers who have lengthy criminal records – bolted on foot during a trip to see his defense attorney. Hall was not handcuffed at the time despite Long’s April policy that requires corrections officers to handcuff all inmates during transport.

“We’ve always got things we are working on,” Long said.

Starting Tuesday, Long will switch the women’s dark brown jumpsuits to white with orange stripes.

“We decided to change (the jumpsuits) so they will be easier to identify if they take off over the fence or whatever,” he said.

In addition, Geiger has already paid a contractor to install motion detectors near the outer fences and a new electronic monitoring system for the doors.

“When we get security as tight as I want,” Long said, “I’m not going to have an excuse.”


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