Inmate Paul Cohagen walked away from the minimum security East Unit of Lansing Correctional Facility, making him the eighth inmate to leave LCF custody in the last three years.
About a month before Cohagen, who was still at large as of Wednesday afternoon, was identified as being on “unauthorized leave” from his job as a plumber at LCF, three inmates — Randy Ridens, Allen Hurst and Scott Gilbert — also walked away from minimum security, the latter two then allegedly leading area police in a brief shootout and chase through rural northwestern Missouri before their apprehension. In April 2012, convicted sex offender Gary Furthmyer left his job at the LCF steam plant. Ronny Dale Peters escaped custody briefly in September 2011. Two months later, Matthew Allender and Chad Amack would also leave custody.
Of those, all but Cohagen have been returned to custody. Jeremy Barclay, special assistant to Kansas corrections secretary Ray Roberts, said such escapes are high-profile, but given the total population of the facility, the number of those who escape custody is small. And he added the nature of LCF's minimum security wing and the number of inmates who are allowed a relatively larger degree of freedom for work makes walk-offs from that unit more likely, compared to escapes like that of John Manard, a convicted murderer who was smuggled out of LCF in a dog cage in 2006 by Toby Young, then working for the prison's Safe Harbor dog program.
“You're going to find very few of that type because our security systemwide 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.”
Barclay said KDOC does draw some distinctions — “unauthorized leave” versus “escape” status —between types of inmates like Cohagen and those who escape from the higher security sections of the prison. But in terms of notification to the public and the resources used to find and apprehend them, Barclay said there is little to no operational difference. When an initial report comes from a KDOC facility that an inmate has gone missing, he said the KDOC secretary's office is notified immediately, along with the victim services unit. Barclay said the department's investigation team then produces and distributes a flyer with information and photos of the escapee on it. Press releases are also distributed to either local or state media, depending on the circumstances of the escape, the nature of the escapees and how far they are thought to have gotten.
Page 2 of 2 - Barclay said KDOC further pushes messages out through its website and Twitter and Facebook feeds, the latter two of which users can sign up for text or email alerts. He said the department does not have its own dedicated targeted text alert system to notify those in the area of escapes, partially because of the cost compared to the relatively small number of incidents.
The prison also tries to address the impulse to escape with the inmates before they attempt the act itself, offering classes that encourage them to think reasonably about the consequences of walking off — Cohagen, for instance, was only months away from his scheduled release date but now faces extra prison time upon capture. Though the effects of classes like that are admittedly hard to quantify in terms of curbing escape attempts, Barclay said the rate of recidivism at KDOC facilities has been reduced by about half since they were first offered.
And Barclay said KDOC uses each escape as a way to improve the existing security system.
“We review all incidents,” he 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. 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.”