TROY, MO. • Six months after two prisoners escaped from the Lincoln County Jail, officials say they have completed $150,000 in improvements they hope will help the county regain lucrative contracts to house federal inmates.
All 34 federal prisoners at the jail under a cell-leasing program were moved to other facilities after the November escape while the U.S. Marshals Service conducted an investigation.
The escapees included John Wesley Jones, who has since pleaded guilty of the multimillion-dollar ATM Solutions robbery in St. Louis. He and another inmate, Corey Durand Cross, who was not involved in the ATM heist, climbed through a drop ceiling and crawled through a fan vent to get to the roof and freedom. Both men were recaptured within a few days.
Since then, Sheriff's Department Major Kurt Venneman said Lincoln County has installed a new camera system and replaced several rows of ceiling tile with steel. In addition, rebar was installed in the duct to prevent access to the vent, and razor wire was put on the roof.
"Basically, what we said we were going to do we've got done," Venneman said. "We've let the marshals know so they're aware of it."
Rob O'Connor of the Marshals Service said they have no plans to reinspect the jail at this point but that could change.
Representatives with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, however, will be touring the facility the first week of June, Venneman said. Immigration officials also removed their four prisoners after the jail break, but Venneman hopes immigration prisoners will return after the inspection.
"Once that door opens, hopefully we will get other federal prisoners back," he said.
Lincoln County officials have relied on contracts with the federal government since at least 2002. It has been one of 13 local facilities that house approximately 400 inmates for the Marshals Service.
In the past, as many as 70 federal prisoners have been held in Lincoln County at one time, boosting county coffers by more than $1 million a year.
Lincoln County's most recent contract with the federal government, signed in August 2009, called for a per-diem rate of $55 per prisoner.
Venneman said so far the county has not had to lay off or reduce the pay of any of the department's 76 employees because of the loss of revenue. However, a few employees who have left voluntarily have not been replaced.
He said the sheriff's department has been able to avoid extreme measures because its budget did not include any federal income for the first six months of this year.
"But it's getting to that point where it's crunch time," he said.
Currently, the jail has about 70 prisoners from Lincoln County cases or those of nearby agencies.