Jail considers deadly force for escaping felons

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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ark. — Deadly force could be used to stop some inmates trying to escape from the Jefferson County jail.

It’s one of the measures being considered to enhance security in the wake of the recent jailbreak involving Wesley Gullett and Christopher Sanderson.

Sheriff Lafayette Woods says that escape prompted a string of attempts, including one case that got as far as the jail roof.

“We have had some copycats if you would,” Sheriff Woods said. “We’ve tried to combat that by instituting 24 hour perimeter security. We’re pulling people from other divisions to fill that void and we can’t continue on that way.”

Sheriff Woods says the deadly force policy would only apply to inmates convicted of a felony. He says that could include anything from a shoot to kill policy for guards trying to stop fleeing felons, to adding electric fences along the perimeter and roof.

“You can utilize deadly force or lethal force to make sure they don’t pose a further danger to the public,” Sheriff Woods said. “Obviously we don’t want to take an individual’s life, we hate for it to result to that.”

According to Woods, this underlines the problems created by major budget cuts by the County. He says it’s resulted in him being forced to cut staff and put basic operational costs first, instead of investing in long term improvements.

Activists for prison and jail reform with the nonprofit, DecARcerate, say that force shouldn’t be used.

“This murderous policy is morally reprehensible,” said Executive Director of DecARcerate, Zachary Crow. “This is a clear overreaction and impulsive reaction to the escapes that happened in Jefferson County.”

Crow says enforcement creates too many shades of gray, since convicted felons are only part of the jail’s population.

“We’re talking about a jail here, not a prison, where so many individuals in jail have not been convicted of a crime,” Crow added. “I think the question we should be asking is how to prevent escape without furthering additional harm or creating additional loss of life.”

Sheriff Woods says those are concerns he’ll keep weighing, refusing to rush into a decision like this.

“I’m exploring every option I can explore. We may do one, we may do two, or we may do a combination of all of it,” he said. “It’s just to make sure we can enhance security and portray to the community and public we are doing all we can to make sure that [escape] doesn’t happen again.”

Deadly force is something prisons can use. It could also apply to the Jefferson County jail since it can house felons for up to a year.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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