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Sorry New York, Florida Escapes Drop By Almost Half

A prison break by two killers in upstate New York, followed by a weeks-long man hut, is dominating headlines. But statistics suggest Floridians shouldn’t be losing sleep.

The Florida Department of Corrections reports escapes fell by nearly half in the past year -- from 172 to 93. Department spokesman McKinley Lewis credits secure facilities and alert guards.

“I can’t emphasize enough just how great a job our officers do each and every day. They certainly don’t have an easy job. But the work that they do is critical to the safety and security of our communities.”

Ninety three escapes may sound like a lot, even for a prison system that can house 100,000 inmates on a given day. But 88 of the 93 escapes were labeled “Level 1,” meaning they were from non-secure community correctional centers or outside work squads.

“An escape can be anything from someone breaking out of a major institution, what we would call behind the fence escape or a secure perimeter escape, to someone who is on work release and simply does not come back to a work release center after they leave work for the day.”

Then there’s the case of convicted murderers Charles Walker and Joseph Jenkins, who were mistakenly released from the Franklin Correctional Institution in Carrabelle two years ago. The two forged their escape with bogus court documents.

Both were captured less than a month later after an extensive manhunt. Former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey announced the arrest in a dramatic press conference.

“At 6:40 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, the aforementioned team surrounded room 227 of the Coconut Grove Inn in Panama City Beach.”

In December, the Florida Parole Commission decided serial escape artist Mark DeFriest should be released this year instead of his original 2085 date. DeFriest was originally jailed on theft charges.

He served decades after seven escapes and 13 attempts earned him the nickname “Houdini.”  His stepsister Barbie Hingle attended the hearing.

“I didn’t come into this feeling very positive, but I feel much more positive today.”

But no escape scheme in modern Florida history had the wow factor of the 1989 attempt by millionaire drug smuggler Barry Kramer. His helicopter crashed in the courtyard of a federal detention center in Southwest Miami-Dade County.

A Miami native, former WFSU reporter Jim Ash is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, most of it in print. He has been a member of the Florida Capital Press Corps since 1992.