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Jail escape raises questions about Heartland prison security

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CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) -

It was an incident that raised a lot of questions about our local jails. Three violent Butler County inmates escaped through ceiling tiles causing a lot of fear and a huge manhunt before they were captured hours later.

So, how safe are our county facilities? Who needs upgrades and what standards do they follow?

Holly Brantley went to get answers.

"I went to work here in 1985 and this was the newest facility in the area," New Madrid County Sheriff, Terry Stevens said.

Built in 1979, the New Madrid County Jail is one of the oldest.

His biggest problem: overcrowding.

"I have 43 beds and 73 inmates and a staff of five jailers who take shifts so it can be trying at times," he said.

Stevens said in spite of that, he feels his jail is secure. Two escapees in Stevens' 13 years, both times the individuals were recovered quickly.

"We want to insure the safety of the public and once somebody is incarcerated, we shouldn't have to worry about them getting back out," he said.

Meanwhile, we also talked to Lt. Jerry Bledsoe in Scott County.

"When I started there in '74, we housed some very mean people and we had one person and I was one person in charge of 40 people," Lt. Bledsoe said.

According to Bledsoe, today's situation is much different thanks to an updated facility built in 2003 with funds from a sales tax. They've had one inmate try to get away by jumping a fence, he was quickly caught and the barrier reinforced.

"If you've got good people and they are cautious and careful, it will cut down on that," Lt. Bledsoe said.

As for Cape Girardeau County's Jail, it is also fairly new, with a modern security system, their biggest problem a large inmate population.

"Typically this time of year we are at 167 population and we are at about 212, which is higher than normal," Capt. Mulcahy said.

While all facilities have different dynamics, they face similar issues. Like the fluctuating number of inmates. That's why both Cape Girardeau and New Madrid County are working on plans to add space.

"It's budget-related, but we are looking into avenues of trying to get more staff and trying to look at a 20 year plan to try and expand the jail," Sheriff Stevens said.

"Hopefully; an expansion will be great, and we are working to come up with a plan," Stevens said.

Many also face the dilemma when comes to questions about how to separate violent and non-violent offenders because of space and logistics. They hope if any good comes out of recent incidents, it's that the public will take more of an interest in county needs and how it affects them.

"Some of the stuff happening is resolving issues for other people," Capt. Mulcahy said. "People are seeing the aftermath and that jail wasn't as secure as it should be. Maybe they see it as a way that it's time to chip in and give them what they need."

Jails do go through inspections. Scott County also has federal inspections because they also hold federal inmates to bring in additional funds for the county.

Meanwhile Butler County is nearly finished with $15,000 in improvements since the escape of three inmates in March.

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