Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Central Unit trusty broke out of, and back into, prison 70 times for shopping trips

More detail from Mike Ward at the Statesman on what's apparently a chronic problems with prisonsers walking off the Central Unit in Sugarland to shop at a nearby Walmart (you can't make this stuff up):

Prison officials never knew he was gone.

And after they were tipped to the late-night trip, officials confirmed Monday, they had to verify the escape by viewing the store's surveillance camera system — which was much better than the one the prison has.

Authorities said they were investigating reports that Skyler Steddum, 19, might have made as many as 70 such shopping trips from Sugar Land's Central Unit, where he was a trusty in a part of the prison without fences.

It was the latest security breach in Texas prisons since officials promised improved security 16 months ago, after a death-row convict used a smuggled cell phone to call a state senator.

"He went out on Tuesday. We didn't find out about it until Friday night, when somebody inside the prison snitched him off," said John Moriarty, inspector general for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, who is overseeing the investigation. "He bought smokeless tobacco and cigarettes. I don't know how much."

This incident provides a security rationale for arguing the Central Unit should be closed, in addition to the economic ones I've discussed in the past.

Breaking out and back into prison 70 times - that's got to approach some kind of record

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Man, the dude has a four year sentence. FOUR YEARS.

Darwin Award nominee?

Red Leatherman said...

Per the comment at 11:17 A 4 year sentence at TDCJ probably boils down to something close to a year and a half. A case for escape attempt can carry something like 15 years. Since he came back, over 70 times in fact Can they say he really attempted to escape? Sounds like sitcom material to me.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Red Leatherman, actually it was a sitcom, sort of. Remember Hogan's Heroes? Except for the WWII setting, this was pretty much the premise.

I'm guessing the warden who plays Col. Klink may be having a conversation soon in front of Sen. Whitmire's Criminal Justice Committee!

diogenes said...

I want to see who is playing Sgt. Schultz

Donald said...

Grits, you'll get a kick out of this similar scenario. I've got a client who was sentenced to do some time in the Travis County Jail. He's doing the time on a sort of modified weekend thing. He's done a bunch of them and has a bunch more to do.

He's having trouble finding employment, because TCJ shows him as an INMATE. No WONDER he can't find a job - hell, I'm surprised nobody has called 911! I can hear it now: "Yes, this is the HR Director at the Acme Pogo Stick Company, I've got your man here, Joe Smith, he's applying for a job with us but the Internet says he's supposed to be in jail...."

Anonymous said...

Not sure if they'll pursue charges against the offender. As usual with stories like this, it will be interesting to see what does happen.

It MAY have been 18 months before he escaped.

Seeing how he'll most likely be subject to a major disciplinary that can result in forefeiture of all good time and reduction to the lowest classification available (Line 3), I'll bet a few parole set-offs are in his future.

Anonymous said...

One of the easiest things to do in Texas is to make the people working in the criminal justice system look foolish. But fools come back with a vengeance. Look what happened to Clyde Barrow after he administered some much needed justice on some guards at the ham.

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember a book with a similar plot. Some hardened cons had a tunnel and would go out to visit at night returnig the following morning. Another con found out about it and, if I remember correctly, used it himself. When the crew who built it found out he knew about and used the tunnel, they had a committee vote on the subject, determining if he should get wacked to prevent the information from possiby getting out. When he was notifed of the decision he was told they had some good news and some bad news for him. The good news was they weren't going to kill him. The bad news was the vote wasn't unanimous!

Anonymous said...

1:35 - Offenders are routinely criminally prosecuted in "free world" court for vastly less dramatic offenses than escape. I don't know, but I can't see Senator Whitmire being too pleased with the Prison Prosecution Unit letting this inmate off the hook with the loss of some good time.

Anonymous said...

I realize we have been in this maniacal punishment/prison mode for so long that it has affected our reasoning about prisons and prisoners. The first thing to go is the recognition that prisoners are just people, and their behavior can be understood in terms of typical human behavior. That is, they are not undomesticated animals or even a different species from humans. Our weird political conditioning has led us to think that way, though, and to a serious habit of confusing the motives of security and punishment. This confusion leads to some rather comical rationalizations about policy and people, and some really bizarre and paranoid notions of what is "dangerous". This case is a clear example. Many people break rules and go places they shouldn't. Prisoners and free citizens both do that kind of thing. People sneak away from their jobs all the time. What I am not sure I understand is how someone who is a trusty, and who works in an unsecured area, would be referred to as having "broken out" of prison for sneaking to the store. I don't see how it would be considered a "breakout", or for that matter even a serious security breach, in light of the fact that he came back! I think this is best thought of as a case of rule violations rather than "escape", but we just can't seem to employ anything but hyperbole in discussion of people convicted of crimes. Since we are on a wholesale binge of convicting as large a percentage of the population as possible and continuously expanding the percentage incarcerated, I don't see any value in keeping up the hype by interpreting typical human behavior as bizarre and dangerous.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:50 - Totally agree with you about the "escape" and "security breach." My family and I have lived across the street from the Central unit for close to 18 years and we have never felt unsafe. We'd much rather have a quiet prison across the street than a bigger, noisier airport with bigger and noisier planes taking off and landing all day long. Give me a break on the "security issue" being a reason to close the prison. It's all about $$$ and certain locals wanting the land for themselves.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@2:50 - He's in prison. He leaves. He comes back. 70 times. Call it an escape or not (a "visit? an "errand"? perhaps going on "walkabout"?), but the Central Unit is on the list of facilities with the worst contraband problems in TDCJ and this example pretty clearly shows why. If he can leave to get cigarettes he can leave to get a gun, which oh btw a TDCJ prisoner smuggled onto a hospital transport in December. I don't think it's a big stretch to consider this a significant security matter.

matthew said...

grits, thanks for defending the risk to security and writing on an apparent culture of apathy at the TDCJ. and, since anon 5:54 lives so close and doesn't seem to mind, maybe they can invite the area man over for dinner on trip 71! the whole thing really is beginning to read like an onion article...

Charlie O said...

Seeing as how he always came back, I say no harm, no foul.

Anonymous said...

No this is not a reason to close the Central Unit. I live and work in the area and knew of a guard that said they are so understaffed that they could easily be taken over. Rick Perry thinks you can run the state on fumes. At least this guy went back. Most don't. Especially from the drug treatment facility where they probably feel to need for a crack fix. Those are usually caught. Also, I think I posted here before telling you that the reason they wanted to close these units and some nearby ones was to sell the land to Sugar Land to expand an airport that would become Houston's second largest airport. The media has not said much about this. But the people living nearby will if they ever try to build an airport.

Anonymous said...

Matthew ~ Why the sarcasm? I'm just telling you that my family has never felt threatened or concerned being right across the street from the Central prison unit. I'm more concerned about some of the ex-cons out there than this guy. Take a good look at some of the "exes" out there. A lot more scary than a trusty that wanted a cigarette.

Boyness said...

**YAWNS** What...another TDCJ F@(K UP? Please...this is getting old.

Anonymous said...

It is disheartening to everyone who works with the prison system that these catastrophic security breaches keep occurring.

Security Audits are performed by Wardens and supervisory staff from units within the same region. This in itself is one of the problems, the other is stupid mistakes. There are repercussions to both.

TDCJ needs unbiased audit teams that won't fear retaliation from their Regional Director to actually go out and do these audits. The State Auditing Office?

Create audit teams to go to opposing regions to audit?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

1:39, FWIW the airport expansion plans I'm aware of were not that ambitious.

As for saying the unit is "so understaffed that they could easily be taken over," that's a reason for closing the place, not keeping it open, if they can't afford to staff it safely.

9:12, that's an EXCELLENT point about making security audits independent. Good suggestion.

Boyness said...

That is, they are not undomesticated animals or even a different species from humans.
---------------------------------
By God they better become totally f*%@%d up after being in one of our prisons. After all, that is the purpose. I could never expect anyone to be housed in one of our 112 insane asylums and be NORMAL in anyway. Texas prisons are a JOKE. TDCJ is a JOKE and Rick Perry...well he's a JOKE!

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