FF12: Why inmate with escape background was given work release

Published On: Jun 11 2014 09:22:49 PM CDT   Updated On: Jun 11 2014 10:43:13 PM CDT

The Department of Corrections is now focused on Sedgwick County in the search for a missing inmate.

Christopher Ward, 43, left his work release job at Cal-Maine Industries Saturday afternoon in Chase and hasn't been seen since.

Ward was currently at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility serving an 8-year sentence for theft and burglary, but has a prior conviction of aggravated escape from custody.

Many Eyewitness News viewers asked on Twitter and Facebook why someone with escape in their history was allowed to be a part of a work release program outside the correctional facility. We went to the Kansas Department of Corrections for answers.

"We have an internal process that we go through, a screening procedure with inmates that are getting closer to release within two to three years," said Jeremy Barclay, spokesman for the Kansas Department of Corrections or KDOC. "If the candidate looks good enough to be a potential employee then we're going to turn that over to employers that we have partnerships with. Let them know these are inmates we've screened and they would be eligible for interviews."

Barclay said Ward went through this process before he was given eligibility for the work release program.

"Inmate Ward's prior escape from a county jail was 20 years ago," he said. "It hasn't happened anytime recently, in fact, his disciplinary report over the last five years has been very good."

Escape history is one factor that goes into deciding whether an inmate gets to be a part of the work release program, but Barclay said they usually only look at the past ten years.

Another factor is disciplinary reports. Ward's record shows only one such report in the last five years for "Use of Stimulants".

"It's a privilege to be able to work, to be able to gain some money to help fund your re-entry into society and it's a privilege that can't be abused," said Barclay.

A privilege Barclay said will likely be taken away from Ward when he is caught.

"You'd be looking at the removal of work release, you'd  be looking at the confines of a prison cell, you'd be looking at an extended time with us," he said. "It's really not a smart act for any inmate, especially Ward."

According to the KDOC, 26 inmates have walked off non-secure facilities or work release sites in the past 24 months, but most of those are caught within several hours of being reported missing.

"We have a very successful apprehension rate, between our special agents and local law enforcement," said Barclay. "Our average return rate is usually 72 hours, we find them within 72 hours. We have very few escapes through our history, I think maybe four through our entire history since 75' that we haven't found. We find our people."

Barclay said the work release program is a good way to help inmates gain work experience and save money for when they are released.

"Those on work release have room and board payments to us, they have victim payments, court costs they might have accrued, but it still provides at least 10% savings towards going to a rent payment or something like that once they get out," he said.

An inmate who is chosen for this program can earn minimum wage, instead of the much smaller wage earned working inside the correctional facility.

"Inside the facilities, if someone has a job, we're paying them $1.05 each day," said Barclay. "If they are out in the community it's going to be a minimum wage situation, so they understand that and most of the time are not going to go anywhere."

Barclay said it also helps keep former inmates out of jail.

"Education and employment skills are two of the biggest criteria to determining whether an inmate is going to be successful upon re-entry or whether they are going to fail at that and return to us," he said. "And that's not just important for the inmate, that's important for all Kansans. We do this so Kansans can remain safe by turning these individual's lives around."

He said each inmate costs the state $28,000 to sustain each year.

"It's important to rehabilitate them, correct their behavior, and get them out into the community successfully. These individuals are now tax paying, law-abiding citizens as opposed to taking tax resources that could be dedicated towards other things."

If you see Christopher Ward or know where he might be, you are asked not to approach him. Contact the Kansas Department of Corrections immediately at 620-662-2321, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation at 1-800-572-7463, your local law enforcement agency or 911.