VAN ZANDT CO. (KYTX) - Eleven days after a major security flaw was uncovered, 144 inmates are back at the Van Zandt County Jail following repairs to faulty locks that were enabling some of them to get out of their cells. The inmates were moved back to the jail Friday after being transferred to three other East Texas jails when the discovery was made last month. And this time, officials are making sure they stay there.
"We're going to definitely be checking locks at least every day," Chief Deputy George Flowers, of the Van Zandt Co. Sheriff's Office, said.
On June 30, it was discovered that several inmates had figured out how to pick the locks using just a sheet and a plastic comb.
"These people are not dumb," Flowers said. "You have some very smart individuals in here, and some of these people have been in this type of corrections or detention setting 20 or 30 years, so they know how to manipulate things and get things done."
So jail officials called the contractor who installed the locks.
"He inspected it and he said, 'That can't be done.' Well, then we got a prisoner and he showed us how he was doing it," Flowers said.
The lock manufacturer rushed replacement parts to the jail, and all 66 faulty locks were fixed and inspected again and again by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
"It entails a lot when you have a breakdown in security in a Texas jail to get it back up to the standards and open it back up for prisoners," Flowers said.
Luckily none of the escapees managed to make it past the hallway, but with close to 200 inmates and only seven unarmed corrections officers on each shift things could have turned out much differently.
"People in my neighborhood were glad that such quick action was taken to protect not only the community but the staff and employees that work here," Flowers said.
He says jail staff will be more diligent during their rounds now to make sure those inmates stay behind the bars where they belong.
"Hopefully they won't get any more creative," Flowers said.
Outsourcing all of those inmates to the other jails will end up being pretty costly. Sheriff Lindsey Ray estimated upwards of $50,000, but Flowers says they haven't gotten a final bill yet.
He hopes the lock manufacturer will ultimately step up and cover those costs.
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards says it doesn't appear that those faulty locks are in any other Texas jails, but they're still investigating.
The manufacturer is also looking into whether or not any of those compromised locks are installed at any other jails across the country.