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Lansing prison defends its security after escapes

LANSING, Kan. (AP) -- While eight minimum-security inmates have walked away from the state's prison in Lansing in the past three years, officials there are confident they have the right systems in place to deal with escapes.

All eight were eventually recaptured, including the latest to escape, Paul Cohagen, who was found Thursday evening after leaving the prison earlier in the week. He was a plumber at the prison, a job that gave him the freedom of movement to escape from minimum security.

Kansas Department of Corrections spokesman Jeremy Barclay told The Leavenworth Times ( ) the number of escapes from Lansing is small in proportion to the prison's inmate population. Higher security prisoners rarely escape, he said.

About a month before Cohagen essentially walked way, inmates Randy Ridens, Allen Hurst and Scott Gilbert also left minimum security. Authorities say Hurst and Gilbert led police on a brief chase and shootout through northwestern Missouri before barricading themselves in a home and surrendering after a standoff. Ridens was captured in Topeka.

In April 2012, Gary Furthmyer left his job at the prison's steam plant; Ronny Dale Peters escaped custody briefly in September 2011; and two months later, Matthew Allender and Chad Amack left custody.

Barclay said escapes from minimum security units are more likely because the inmates are allowed more freedom for their jobs.

"You're going to find very few (escapes from higher security) because our security system wide is excellent," Barclay said. "It works the way it's supposed to -- the maximum security inmates stay where they're supposed to, the medium security inmates stay where they're supposed to. Every once in a while, you've got minimums doing some straying, but our track record on getting them back is excellent and then you're looking at a higher custody level thereafter."

Inmates who leave minimum security are classified as being on "unauthorized leave" rather than having escaped, but the prison uses essentially the same procedures for capturing them, Barclay said.

When an escape is reported, the Secretary of the Department of Corrections and the department's victim services unit are notified. An investigation team distributes a flyer with information and photos of the escaped inmate and news releases are issued.

The corrections department also uses social media to publicize the escapes, but it does not have a targeted text alert system to notify those in the area of escapes. That's due in part to the cost of such a system compared to the relatively small number of incidents, Barclay said.

The prison also offers classes to instruct inmates on the consequences of leaving prison. Cohagen, for instance, was scheduled to be released in November but now faces extra prison time.

The corrections department also studies each escape to find ways to improve its security, Barclay said.

"Generally the inmates, once they're back in custody, are very forthcoming in terms of their thinking, their planning and anything that's gone into it," he said. "We learn form that and then we make any improvements that we need to, so we're always striving to improve the system that we have in place."


Information from: Leavenworth (Kan.) Times,