Arkansas was one of the few states that, until recently, allowed unsupervised prisoners to transport other prisoners to and from free-world jobs.
?We can?t do it without allowing some inmates to hold positions of responsibility and trust,? said DOC spokeswoman Dina Tyler. The expense of requiring a guard for each van trip was cost prohibitive and would place additional strain on an already short-handed system.
Delancey and Saunders were scheduled to pick up prisoners working at an Affiliated Foods warehouse that Sunday. Instead, the pair abandoned the vans; they were spotted two days later at a lumberyard in Little Rock.
Delancey was serving a 20-year sentence for second degree murder, while Saunders was serving 14 years for burglary and theft. Both would have been eligible for parole in just over a year.
It had been more than ten years since a van driver escaped from an Arkansas work-release program, and this was the first work-release escape in 2006. Several other states had discontinued the practice of using prisoner drivers long ago.
Dorinda Carter, spokeswoman for the Tennessee DOC, said, ?We stopped that about 20 years ago. We found that there were problems with what they did along the way (to and from their work assignments). There were problems with contraband ? marijuana and alcohol.?
Florida had a similar program from 1978 to 2003, but numerous traffic citations and accidents caused the practice to be discontinued.
Texas prisoners are required to drive in convoys and only under supervision.
Sanders, 24, and Delancey, 41, were captured about two weeks later in Ocala, Florida after authorities were notified the escapees might be passing through. They were extradited to Arkansas and moved to the Maximum Security Unit at the Tucker prison.
Although Arkansas DOC officials had not planned to alter the practice of using prisoners to drive work-release vans, their position changed following another escape involving a prisoner driver on October 6, 2006.
Kenneth Stumbaugh, 45, serving time on forgery and theft charges, absconded in a work-release van after he dropped off other prisoners at their jobs at Reed?s Outdoor Equipment in Benton. The van was found abandoned the next day in Little Rock. Stumbaugh surrendered to authorities in Dallas County, Missouri almost a week later on October 12, 2006.
?Usually the program works well and we don?t have any snags. But every once in a while when you put inmates in a trust position every once in a while they are going to burn you,? said Tyler.
Following Stumbaugh?s escape, Arkansas DOC director Larry Norris quickly ended the practice of using prisoners to drive work-release vans. Ten guards from the Benton Unit took over the driving positions.
The DOC initially stated it planned to seek $300,000 from the legislature to fund driver positions to transport the state?s more than 500 work-release prisoners to and from their work assignments. However, after it became apparent the funds would not be forthcoming, the Arkansas Board of Corrections voted to raise the program fee for work-release prisoners from $15 per day to $17 a day to cover the increased cost of transportation. The fee increase became effective on January 1, 2007.
In other recent work-release escapes, Arkansas prisoner Joe H. Bell, Jr., 41, walked off his job at a construction company on Dec. 11, 2006. Company officials had notified the DOC that they wanted to fire Bell, who was serving an 8-year sentence. He remains missing.
And on January 8, 2007 another work-release prisoner escaped. Mark Grover, 42, was caught after he attempted to run over a state police investigator in Little Rock. The unidentified investigator fired several shots at the van Grover was driving (not a work-release van), but there were no injuries.
Grover had left his work-release job at a boating supply company the day before; on the morning that he escaped, a guard had reportedly threatened to remove him from work-release and send him to a secure prison.
Source: Associated Press, www.nwanews.com, Democrat-Gazette, KATV
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