BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - You seem to hear about it far too often: inmates walking off the job in the Baton Rouge area.
Jospeh Fuselier was just recaptured after taking off from his job site on Highland Road. He was taken down in Mamou after being on the run for about a month. The 9News Investigators are looking into just how many times inmates trusted with jobs through the program have given law enforcement the slip and what’s being done to keep them from walking off the job.
Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies took Fuselier down right after they say he broke into a home in Mamou. In addition to a new set of burglary charges, he has now been slapped with another charge of simple escape.
Surveillance video from back in October shows Matthew Gray, another inmate, walking off his job site at a car wash in New Roads. Police say he swiped one of the trucks on the lot before giving managers the slip.
WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Smith how something like this continues to happen.
“Well, it can happen for any number of reasons, but the most obvious would be lack of oversight by the employer or just human error,” said Smith. “Someone may turn their head for just a moment and they step away.”
According to records provided to the 9News Investigators, since October of 2018, just more than a dozen inmates in the Baton Rouge area have stepped away from the job, including five from East Baton Rouge Parish, three from West Baton Rouge Parish, two from West Feliciana Parish, two from Livingston Parish, and one from Pointe Coupee Parish. Smith defends those numbers, saying they represent just a small fraction of the inmates in the program.
"One is too many, absolutely, but it's just an accepted risk,” said Smith. “These people are going back to society. They're working their way out and the benefits far outweigh what risk that poses."
In the greater Baton Rouge area, there are currently 821 inmates in the Transitional Work Program. They are put to work at various job sites, from convenience stores to restaurants. Smith says having only a dozen walk off the job shows the program is working.
“That’s less than 1%. I think that means it’s a highly successful program,” said Smith. “Anything you do, there’s going to be negative outcomes in this business. It does happen and it will happen. We just have to accept that and mitigate that.”
In August, another inmate, Grant Bailey Jr., walked off his job at DOC headquarters. He was a trustee with the department, which is separate from the work release program. He was initially put behind bars for a combined 60 years for attempted murder and made it to the levee before he was eventually caught. DOC spokesman, Ken Pastorick, says that escape was an anomaly.
Records requested by the 9News Investigators show Bailey was the only trustee to walk off the job in the last year. As soon as an inmate walks off the job in the Transitional Work Program, Smith says they kick start a plan to recapture them, including getting local, state, and other law enforcement partners involved. While he could not give away specifics of exactly how they work to get those inmates back behind bars as quickly as possible, he says his team is constantly reviewing their policies to prevent future walk-offs.
"We do frequent checks on both the facility and employers to make sure that we make this run as smoothly as possible and make it as safe as possible for the public,” said Smith. “You know, if all of a sudden we find out that there were a series of escapes from a certain parish or a certain work site or whatever, we make sure that there's nothing that we're doing wrong or nothing that we need to do better."
One thing Smith says they’re doing better is making a positive difference in the lives of the men and women who go through the program. Despite some negative incidents, overall, he believes the Transitional Work Program is delivering a much-needed second chance for those inmates trusted to participate.
“I can tell you this Scottie, with 100% certainty, nobody leaves prison the same way they come to us,” said Smith. “They’re going to get out. They have a release date. It’s an opportunity for them to hopefully leave a taxpayer, not a tax burden and give them all the tools to go down that avenue once they’re released.”
Each inmate that escaped is automatically punished with an additional two years added to their sentence for simple escape. It’s up to a committee to determine whether they will ever be eligible for the program again.