As many of us in Northeast Ohio know, T.J. Lane escaped from prison for approximately six hours on Thursday, Sept. 11. Lane was sentenced to three life sentences in 2013 after murdering three high school students in a school shooting.
Personally, it gave me cause to make sure all of my doors and windows were locked before going to bed despite knowing there was no feasible way that he would make it all the way up to University Heights just to break into my residence.
Regardless, it does raise the question, “how can a convicted murderer manage to escape prison?”
Let’s examine the facts. Lane had been incarcerated within Allen Oakwood Correctional Institution, a prison that houses primarily minimum and medium-security offenders, according to ABC. These offenders may be guilty of anything from nonviolent crimes such as drug possession, to petty theft.
Allen Oakwood Correctional Institution houses nearly 1,700 prisoners, yet staffs under 300 security personnel dispersed among three shifts.
The prison does not require frequent patrols or surveillance. Several security measures had also been cut in recent years, such as three security towers and all outside perimeter posts, WKYC, Cleveland’s local NBC affiliate, reported. Additionally, when the prison was inspected in April 2014, it was at 115 percent capacity, containing over 400 more inmates than the prison was designed to hold.
Lane was put into this prison because, while he was tried as an adult, he was a minor at the time of his conviction. He was given “the highest level security grade,” according to the prison, but this didn’t stop him from escaping.
Despite the assigned security level and the fact that his recreational privilege had been revoked for a previous disciplinary infraction, Lane was able to scale the fence and leave the prison with two other inmates. Lane was found six hours later, approximately 300 feet from the prison’s boundaries. Many consider his placement at Allen Oakwood the primary factor in his escape.
However, this institution isn’t the only one that is overcrowded. In fact, Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Correction reports that the state’s prison systems are built to hold about 38,000 prisoners, yet are actually housing well over 50,000.
As correctional facilities fill up, many are forced to house criminals exceeding the intended security level—hence why Lane was housed among primarily petty criminals. This mix of criminals packed like sardines tends to lead to heightened assault rates between guards and inmates, as well as among inmates themselves. In turn, this leads to longer imprisonment times and to even more overcrowding. The way I see it, our prison system is not faulty, like many DRC officials seem to believe. It is broken.
After being apprehended, Lane and his cohorts were transferred to Youngstown’s Ohio State Penitentiary, a maximum security prison. While this will likely prevent any future escapes Lane might attempt, it is not a solution.
I hope this incident provides more than another 15 minutes of fame for Lane. It’s time that a long, hard look is taken in terms of our prison system so changes may be made.