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Corrections commissioner: no indication June jail break was inside job

By Rachel Lippmann, St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis – The head of St. Louis's corrections division says there is no indication that two juveniles who escaped from the city's medium security jail in June had inside help.

Officials first thought that several employees at the facility known as the workhouse may have deliberately ignored policies to help the two 17-year-old inmates escape, Commissioner Gene Stubblefield said. But investigations have not borne that out.

Eric Gray is charged with murder, and Kurt Wallace faces assault charges. Both are certified to stand trial as adults. They flooded toilets in their cells early on June 23, then escaped when a guard who was supposed to be supervising the inmates took a bathroom break. They were captured without incident later in the evening.

Any of the guards who ignored the workhouse's procedures will be disciplined, Stubblefield said. Hearings will start next week, and the guards could be suspended or fired.

"We certainly can't give the impression to our staff that not following protocols is okay in a jail environment," he said. "Every single protocol that we have in a jail has to be followed, not just some of the time but 100 percent of the time."

The corrections division has made some changes to key access and perimeter control policies suggested by the state Department of Corrections, which conducted an informal audit after the escape. Another row of razor wire has been added to the perimeter fence, Stubblefield said, and gates that were previously just locked and chained have been welded shut. Stubblefield said the department is also strengthening oversight of who enters and leaves secure areas of the workhouse.

"You never can be too safe," he said. "We had a major escape, so you're looking at the big picture and brainstorming and going let's make these changes and let's make these changes to make sure that we don't have breaches of security in these areas."

The escape was not the first problem at the city's jails. Three guards pleaded guilty last year to attempting to smuggle heroin into the maximum security facility. And a report by the American Civil Liberties Union alleged widespread abuse at both facilities.