FORT SUPPLY — Woodward County Sheriff Gary Stanley has noticed an increase in prison escapes in his jurisdiction, and he is worried about the danger it may pose for residents.
Since January, Stanley and his deputies have been called out to search for several escapees from William S. Key Correctional Center.
He has noticed more escapes from the minimum-security facility recently and thinks it might be because of staffing problems and overcrowding at other state facilities.
“I know the Department of Corrections has their hands full with the amount of people they put in prison,” Stanley said. “I know it's a problem for them finding where to put these people, but I'm worried about the citizens in Woodward County.
“It seems like it's happening real often.”
The latest inmate to escape is Aaron Morgan, 21, who was serving time for second-degree burglary in Hughes County.
Morgan was reported missing Thursday and was captured Friday in Canadian County. He is the third inmate to escape from the prison in less than a week.
Inmates Damario Love, 26, and Anthony Brinsfield, 31, were discovered missing about 7:30 a.m. June 10.
Love was serving a sentence for second-degree robbery in Tulsa County.
Brinsfield most recently was convicted of possession of a firearm during commission of a felony, possession of a stolen vehicle and unlawful possession of a controlled drug with intent to distribute in Pottawatomie County, according to Corrections Department records.
Stanley said deputies were called out to look for the two near the prison. They found inmate clothing spread out in the middle of a road and suspected the two might have fled in a vehicle.
He alerted law enforcement agencies statewide and received calls from residents about possible sightings.
Love and Brinsfield crossed the state line into Texas and were captured Tuesday night at a motel in Del Rio near the border of Mexico.
When it comes to dispatching deputies to help corrections department staff search for escapees, Stanley said he tries to locate the offenders before they leave the area.
But he doesn't have the funds to pay his deputies overtime.
“I try to ensure the safety of Woodward County, but I have to keep within my budget,” he said.
William S. Key Correctional Center is the state's largest minimum-security prison, with 1,079 inmates.
Eight inmates have escaped the facility so far this year, corrections spokesman Jerry Massie said.
He said three inmates escaped in 2011 and 10 fled in 2010.
The sheriff said the facility, which doesn't have a fence, appears to house violent offenders. He has been so concerned about the number of recent escapes that he contacted the corrections department to look into the situation, he said.
The warden declined to comment on staffing and escapes for this story.
Massie said most prisons are understaffed because more people are opting to work in other fields. He said all of the prisons are operating at a 95 percent inmate capacity level.
He said the population at Key Correctional Center increased in 2007 by 200 inmates. Because of the number of offenders, the staff carries out two additional checks in the morning and afternoon, Massie said.
Woodward County residents on a call list are notified when an inmate escapes.
Most of the inmates who walk away from the prison try to steal a vehicle or arrange a ride to leave the area, Stanley said.
In 2002, three men who walked away from the facility broke into a Woodward home, tied up an elderly couple and ate their food before stealing their vehicle, he said.
Stanley thinks violent offenders should be housed at a higher-security prison with more staff members.
“The people that are escaping out there, some of them seem like they have some serious crimes that they're out there for,” he said.
“I'm worried about the type of people escaping.”