Inmate escapes highlight importance of jail safety

ROLETTE COUNTY, N.D. - The escape of an inmate over the weekend in Rolette County raises questions about jail safety.

The suspect was taken into custody without incident, but what happened in Rolla is far from the first time in the past year that someone escaped from a North Dakota jail—or at least tried.

The jailbreak in Rolla is the latest in a string of escapes or attempted escapes in the past year.

Last April Kenneth Eagleman cracked a window in the Devils Lake jail.

In September, William Rawson fled from Washburn and barricaded himself in a trailer home, forcing the SWAT team to come in.

And this past weekend, armed robbery suspect Jay Barker fled from the Rolette County Jail after locking a correctional officer in a dayroom.

There's been no successful jailbreaks in Ward County, though some have tried.

Last July Vincent Musi III removed the stool from his cell and cracked a window.

The next month, Richie Wilder, Jr., later convicted in the murder of his ex-wife, was found chiseling at the window of his cell.

The oil boom and aging architecture put corrections in North Dakota behind the curve.

“Having inmates on four floors, if there's a fight, sometimes there's only one officer up there. Then the other officers either have to run up the stairs or take the elevator, and that's a safety issue,” said Paul Olthoff, Ward County Jail Commander.

“Some smaller jails have struggled with trying to keep pace with security requirements because many of them were designed basically as a holding facility, but because of the demands placed on them to house more inmates, they've struggled to try and keep up,” said Maj. Bob Barnard, Ward County Sheriff’s Department.

Jails in Stanley, Bottineau, Williston and Rolla are expanding. Morton and Burleigh Counties are combining, and Watford City is getting a new jail.

Ward County's jail is doubling in size, and the Sheriff's Department will move inmates in later this year.

They're ramping up security with new cameras and lots more of them. They've also followed other jails by installing these video chat boxes so families of inmates can speak with their loved one, even remotely from home, cutting down on visits and in having to move inmates around.

The Rolette County Sheriff said he's changing how they move inmates around in their jail.

Escape is a Class-B felony charge that carries with it a maximum sentence of ten years in prison.