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Lack of notice part of fallout from escape

Cinco de Mayo 2014 will be remembered locally as the day Deer Ridge Correctional Institution — the Madras state prison — had its first escape.

Clinton Orvill Swearingen II, who'd only been in Deer Ridge since Feb. 4, actually went missing about 10:30 p.m. Sunday, May 4, but it was throughout Monday that the situation seized the community. Swearingen reportedly jumped the razor-wire fence, injured himself in doing so, but as of Tuesday afternoon, remained at large.

Another prisoner walked away from a Deer Ridge workcrew in Deschutes County last May (reapprehended three days later in Beaverton), but Swearingen is the first to escape the facility east of Madras.

Indeed, the escape made for a hectic Monday for the Department of Corrections and local law enforcement. Madras schools were put at near-lockdown status, and leads that he'd been seen near St. Charles Madras led to the hospital going into lockdown.

But as morning grew into afternoon, it seemed more and more likely that Swearingen had managed to get out of town.

What also became known was that the prison's system of notifying area residents about escapes or other emergencies — especially neighbors of the facility — wasn't used. Deer Ridge officials had to admit that when they tried to use the automatic phone system, it didn’t work.

Maybe the escape will reinvigorate the prison's desire to better interface with the community, as it did initially upon opening in 2007.

The escape will certainly lead to reviews of several angles of operation. The community isn't overly concerned about the internal operations of the prison, but they are concerned about the community's safety in regards to the prison.

Back to the escape. I'm not sure why anyone in a minimum-security prison, with their release date within months or a couple years would ever escape (Swearingen was serving a three-year sentence for theft, burglary and stolen vehicle in Linn County). They have to know that, even if they get past the fence to take in a few breaths of freedom, their odds of being caught relatively soon are, what, about 95 percent? Then it's back to prison with an additional seven to 10 years or so tacked onto their sentence. Swearingen’s earliest release date was December 2017.

Swearingen is very small in stature — 5-6 and 140 pounds — and has a neck tattoo. Not your average-looking individual. And those who escape out of state prisons earn the serious focus of the authorities. I'd be surprised if next week's Pioneer didn't have a story on his recapture. But then, his escape in the first place was a surprise.



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