The group, often referred to as the "Connally Seven", made headlines worldwide with their daring daylight escape. The seven escapees outsmarted and overpowered more than a dozen state employees and managed to seize 16 weapons, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and a truck during their getaway. After remaining at large for a month and a half the seven were eventually cornered in Colorado by law enforcement officials. Six were recaptured and returned to custody. The seventh chose to commit suicide rather than return to prison. Each of the escapees were serving extremely long sentences, for crimes which included murder, rape, and armed robbery. [See: PLN , Sept. 2001.]
The Institute on Crime, Justice, and Corrections concluded in its report that custody levels for prisoners should take into consideration the nature of their current offense and their prior criminal history. The current method for assigning custody levels is based solely on a prisoner's disciplinary record. The report recommended that a more comprehensive assessment of each prisoner's employment history, education, and gang affiliation be used as criteria for determining custody levels.
The report by Security Response Technologies criticized the "count" practice used by guards at the Connally Unit, a procedure which allowed the 1000_plus prisoners to be counted outside of their living areas. The report also emphasized the glaring differences "between what the policy and procedures dictate and the actual practices by the staff."
TDCJ remains tight-lipped concerning the two reports, but systems chairman Mac Stringfellow told the press that in the future "more emphasis will be put on [each individual prisoner's] crimes." Stringfellow insists, however, that Texas "does not have a flawed system." He blames the escape on unit employees who strayed from TDCJ policy.
In addition, Glenn Castleberry, a spokesperson for TDCJ, was quick to point out that neither the custody level nor the work assignments of the Connally Seven were out of accordance with national standards. "All of them would still be properly placed on that maintenance job," he said.
But Senator John Whitmire, DHouston, disagrees. An outspoken and long-time critic of TDCJ, he blasted the system for not accepting its share of the blame for the escape. "Changing the classification system should have been done a long time ago," he said. "That escape was a disaster and a tragedy."
Source: San Antonio Express News.
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