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Jail Break--In Real Time

Before news organizations could get word about Saturday's escape from the D.C. Jail to their viewers, listeners and readers, the neighborhood listserv was in gear, collecting and sharing information. First word on the New HIll East community bulletin board ( came from Hill activist Jim Myers, who in his other life, is a print journalist--he knew, therefore, to get the info out fast:

Date: Sat Jun 3, 2006 8:39 am (PDT) Subject: An Escaped Prisoner

Today's Saturday morning attempt to show out-of-town guests the splendor of
our Anacostia Waterfront and Farmers' Market was slightly thwarted by the
report of an escaped prisoner from D.C. Jail.
Cops were gathering shortly before 11 a.m.; news crews, too. But
specifics on the situation were still hazy.
I vaguely remember that there is (or was) an established warning system
for the neighborhood in such cases, but I am unaware of its ever being used
in recent years, hence, escapes could be more common that we realize. I can't
even remember what the warning system was supposed to be -- a horn? Anybody
else recall?
Anyway, on the positive side, relations with the jail are slightly
better than years ago when RELEASED inmates in jail jump suits would wander the
neighborhood begging for bus fare home. Presumably, today's escapee would have
wanted to get out of the area as! soon as possible without attracting
Jim Myers

A few hours later, Myers posted a news story from with some verified details of the jail break. In the ensuing hours and days, neighbors of the jail area looked into how other prisons get the word out about jail breaks, discussed the police response, and wondered whether early notification would really have changed how they went about their daily activities:

Subject: Re: Escapees and Our neighborhood

Personally, I'm a little ambivalent about Saturday's events. I was outside
working in my yard and wondering what the helicopters were all about. Had I
known it was a prison break, would I have done anything different? Probably
not. Would I like to find out about such events sooner than the next day's
morning edition of the paper? Maybe. Fact is, my family is already pretty
security conscious. We don't leave doors unlocked, we're aware of our
surroundings, we're on the lookout for threats. Knowing that prisoners have
escaped might change our awareness, but I don't think it would otherwise change
our already existing behaviors ("Ma, git the gun, there's convicts aloose!").

.... After-the-fact notification, while it may raise some personal safety concerns, seems sufficient to me.

Quite frankly, I might be more concerned if the escapees had been captured in the neighborhood, particularly a day or so after their jail break. It seems to me that the LAST place an escaped prisoner wants to be is too close to the jail from which they've just escaped. Those of us nearby are probably the safest . . . Adrienne
I would like to have the alarm sound because even though the escapees want to get out of the neighborhood as soon as possible they are here for a short period of time anyway & I don't want to be in their way on the streets. Maribeth

Myers concluded that even though some neighbors don't mind if there's no warning about future jail breaks, "the rest of us would prefer some kind of warning," and therefore neighbors should ask the Corrections Department to schedule a test of the alarm, so residents could at least hear what it sounds like.

WTOP reporter Mark Segraves, who lives in the neighborhood, reported to the listserv that he had met with corrections officials and been promised that the jail would install a red light on its roof to alert neighbors to trouble.

Within a couple of days of the break, the immediate concerns for safety were alleviated by the capture of the bad guys, and at least some neighbors could start to see the whole affair in a different light:

It is kind of amusing that the escapees took Metro. None of this slogging through the woods in black/white stripes and leg irons for them. Nope, they leisurely rode away in air-conditioned comfort.... Everett

By Day Four, public officials had gotten their act together and announced plans for a public meeting to let the community know about the status of the investigation and plans for notifying neighbors of any future such events. Word about the meeting will be sent out, of course, via the listserv.

By Marc Fisher |  June 8, 2006; 7:18 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Nice research, boring results.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 8, 2006 9:14 AM


Posted by: sleepy | June 8, 2006 10:11 AM

"By Day Four, public officials had gotten their act together...."

The District government and public services are, at the very least, consistent in providing inadequate information and services to the citizenry which it is supposed to serve.

Posted by: KP | June 8, 2006 10:22 AM

I'm not interested in procedures when they escape, I'm really interesed in how those guys got past guards and into an admin's office and out his/her window.

Now that's a story!!

Posted by: Frankey | June 8, 2006 10:27 AM

Phil Mendelson, who chairs the DC Council Judiciary Committee, has oversight on the Department of Corrections and is largely responsible for its budget. Mendelson used the recent jailbreak as an opportunity to stand in the news spotlight, demand answers and announce an investigation.

However, while the news cameras were rolling Mendelson failed to mention that under his stewardship the 2006 budget for the Department of Corrections was cut.

In a letter* to Mendelson, Mayor Williams warned that this "arbitrary decrease" would "simply be irresponsible."

Nonetheless, Mendelson stood by the budget cut.

* April 28, 2005 letter,

Posted by: No Escaping the Truth | June 8, 2006 3:49 PM

And just for the hell of it: dippin dots.

Posted by: consistent carl | June 9, 2006 12:12 PM

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