Who’s To Blame For No Lockdown? School Supervised Prisoners Escape With DOE Vehicle

A Thursday afternoon incident at White Pine School has some parents and Board Members questioning why the school did not go on lock down following the escape of two prisoners who were on work detail at the school and the subsequent theft of a Department of Education vehicle that was used in that escape.

According to official information, the time of the escape is estimated to be around 12:30pm from White Pine School. The work release program that allows prisoners to be on school property does not provide that a Sheriff’s Department employee will be overseeing the prisoners while on school property. Instead, the understanding between the Sheriff’s Department and the Department of Education is that prisoners will be supervised, while on school site, by a school system employee.

In recent years, prison labor has been used to cut costs associated with the various building programs. And, it has become common place for prisoners to be on school grounds while school is still in session. Recently, Jefferson County Department of Education, in conjunction with the Jefferson County School Board, held a forum to discuss school safety. During that forum, concern was expressed that prisoners may be interacting on some level with students. Michael Phagan, who is the central office director in charge of Maintenance, addressed the question and indicated that he would be checking on the complaints. It is unclear which Department of Education employee is ultimately in charge of prisoners while they are on school property and it is unclear if the decision to not place White Pine School in lock down was the decision of the Central Office or a school based decision.

In an effort to obtain information on the decision to not place the school in lock down when it was discovered that two prisoners had apparently escaped, the Jefferson County Post contacted both the Department of Education and White Pine School. The Department of Education representative stated that they were made aware of the incident and that questions on particulars should be directed to the school. Representatives from White Pine School referred questions to the Department of Education. White Pine Police Department had not returned the Post’s call as of time of press. School Board Member Denise Fair, who has been vocal regarding concerns for student safety, stated that she had limited information on the incident but has unanswered questions, as well. Fair shared her concern that prisoners were not supervised by trained personnel and for the prisoner’s ability to move at ease within the student population. She said that no amount of savings could justify a breech in student safety and was in favor of removal of prison labor from the schools. She also expressed concern that no lock down procedure had been initiated, if for no other reason than to do a student head count to assure that they were all present and accounted for after the breakout.

Prisoners William Harris and Jeffery Cross were apprehended on Friday in a neighboring county. They were in prison for parole violation. Though they are back in custody, important questions remain unanswered for many parents. School Board Member Fair said that she anticipates discussion on the lock down decision and the use of prison labor at the next school board meeting.