Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Escapes Plague Texas Jails

A rash of escapes have plagued Texas jails over the past year. On January 28, 2002, four prisoners used a homemade knife to overpower two guards and force their way out of Montague County jail near the Texas/Oklahoma border. The four were eventually captured together eight days later in southern Oklahoma, not far from the jail.

Jail overcrowding was cited as the major security issue leading to the escape. Montague jail had been "decertified" prior to the escape for exceeding the maximum prisoner to guard ratio of 48 to 1. The day of the escape the ratio was 55 to 1. In 2001 Texas had over 140 escapes, compared to 116 in 2000 and only 74 in 1976. While most of America heard about the daring daylight escape of the Texas 7, few were aware of an equally dramatic escape that took place last October.

On October 11, 2001, five prisoners escaped from the Grayson County Jail. They jimmied the doors of their maximum security cells, crawled through an air vent, and made their way to a dirt floor basement. From there they tunneled their way to freedom. Two were recaptured Friday afternoon and a third was taken into custody on Saturday. But Brian Leach and Lynn Gantt left a trail of bound victims and exchanged hostages in their four day flight from the law.

Police exchanged gunfire with the desperate fugitives Sunday evening as they chased them into a farmhouse where they held an elderly couple hostage. Nine hours later, as an exhausted Gantt slept, Leach helped the hostages escape. Then, in an apparent dispute over how to resolve the stand-off, Leach shot Gantt in the stomach. Gantt recovered in a Ft. Worth hospital. Leach was not charged in the shooting. During their four days of freedom, the two made it less than 70 miles from the Sherman jail.

But nowhere is the gaping hole in jail security wider than in the state capital of Austin. Travis County has more escapes than any other county in Texas. On the evening of October 21, 2001, Troy Bailey and Joshua Johannes made their way to the roof of the medical facility and over a barbed wire fence in their escape from a Travis County jail. The two were residents in the psychiatric unit of the jail when they apparently used an outdoor toilet to scale a rec yard wall. Once atop the wall, they made a hole in a chain-link fence, and then slipped past guards and two perimeter fences. Bailey was arrested only two days later, but Johannes managed to elude capture for two weeks before being picked up in Louisiana.

Plenty of fingers are being pointed over the Travis County escape. The fence company blames the architects, the architects blame the fence company, and the Sheriff Department is blaming everyone, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which required them to install the toilet.

Roger Wade, spokesman for the sheriff's office says that at least 8 people have escaped the facility since 1998. He blames most of the escapes on security breakdowns, staff shortages and inexperienced workers. But he insists that none of these played a part in the escape-of Bailey and Johannes.

Charley Wilkinson agrees. Spokesman for the Combined Law Enforcement Association, Wilkinson says, "There's a hole in the fence. We don't have people breaking out of jail because there's no wall there, or there's a failure in the locks." Wilkinson blames the escapes on "a breakdown in human capacity." "The officers are failing," he says.

However, the messiest escape to plague the capitol city came on November 13, 2001, when sewage from cells on the second floor of the County Criminal Justice Center broke through pipes and spilled through the ceiling onto the offices below. Workers were forced to relocate until walls, ceiling, floors, and office equipment could be sanitized. This has been a common occurrence in the clerk's office for the past several months. Who knows, maybe the ADA is responsible for the sewage problems too.

Sources: Associated Press; USA Today; Austin American Statesman; Philadelphia Inquirer; and, The New York Times

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login