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More funding needed

Jan. 18, 2001

'Watch out for ice and other drivers on the road. And your dad wanted me to tell you about these seven guys that escaped from a prison. Just please be careful ... wherever

it is you decide to stop.'

Icy roads and reckless drivers had been fairly common ingredients of the pre-road trip conversation that I've grown used to hearing from my mom. But prison escapees? That was a new one.

I thought little of the travel warning as I made my way to Corpus Christi, until I paid for a snack at a convenience store outside San Antonio. Taped on the counter was a newspaper article whose headline screamed out the message I'd heard from my mother.

The article was the first of many reports of the escapees' circumstances:

On Dec. 13, a group of seven inmates escaped from the maximum-security Connally Unit near Kenedy after orchestrating an intricate plan that spanned a two-and-a-half-hour period. Though sightings have reported the fugitives in locations throughout the state, the Christmas Eve shooting of an Irving police officer is the closest officials may have come to any of the men. Last Thursday, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice report served not only to tell the details of the escape, but also indicated the conflicts bearing upon our prison system.

Gary Johnson, director of the TDCJ institutional division, admitted in an Associated Press story last Thursday that 'the system has failed.' TDCJ officials were quick to blame the prison's employees while downplaying the responsibility of the unit's administrators.

Finger pointing is quickly diluting the report's purpose. At a time when corrections need to be made, guards and administrators have suddenly etched a divisive line that may take them steps away from improving the situation.

The report brings another issue to light. The 2002-2003 proposed state budget includes $42 million for guard pay raises, but doesn't include enough for additional raises or staff assistance. What happened near Kenedy is a perfect example of the effects inadequate funding can have.

The Connally Unit was about 22 guards short when the inmates escaped. Additional prison staff, made possible by additional funding, may have prevented their escape.

Glitches in the system or among its employees need to be addressed. The unfortunate fact is that citizens' safety had to be compromised to shed light upon existing problems.

During my drive back to Waco, radio reports put the notorious seven somewhere in the San Marcos area. How foolish of me to think that I'd heard the last of them on that December day.


Managing editor

Monica D. Morales is a

senior journalism major from Corpus Christi.