North Carolina Department of Correction news release

February 16, 1998

Prison escapes drop to all time low

Knowing that the touch of a fence sets off alarms, and that a run for freedom means being chased by bloodhounds, the majority of state prisoners prefer to stay put and obey the prison rules. Consequently, the number of escapees reached an all-time low of 142 last year while the prison population peaked.

Daisy, the bloodhound, is one of the 33 dogs whose
keen sense of smell helps return escapees to prison

"Let’s not forget that nearly 6,000 inmates work outside the fence, in the community, which makes this escape rate even more remarkable," Correction Secretary Mack Jarvis said. "In addition to the aggressive construction of more secure prisons, I believe Gov. Jim Hunt’s mandate to put more inmates to work has kept prisoners occupied and their minds off running."

The highest recorded number of escapes was in 1973, with 2,054 escapes out of a prison population of less than 11,000 inmates. Since then the department has tripled its prison capacity and now has 32,000 inmates.

All but two of the 1997 escapees were assigned to minimum custody prisons, and 81 had been working in jobs away from the prison.

Other reasons for the dramatic drop over the past three decades include better staff training, a better classification system and fewer misdemeanants being sent to prison.

Currently, 18 prisons are equipped with electronic alarm system fencing and plans are to add it to several other prisons. No inmate has been successful in escaping over a fence equipped with the electronic alarm system.

Escapes can happen at any time, but more occur in springtime, and home is usually the destination.

"When an inmate does escape, correction bloodhounds, the fugitive staff and members of the Prison Emergency Response Team aggressively pursue that individual," Jarvis said. "Most escapees are recaptured within 24 hours."

There have been 17 escapes so far this year and 15 captures.