Inmate’s Escape Highlights Security Concerns At Geiger Correctional Facility
SPOKANE, Wash – After a Geiger inmate escaped Sunday night, the larger issue of security is taking center stage again.
The Spokane County Sheriff's Department says Michael Wheeler, 38, was working in the kitchen and was last seen between 5:30 and 5:50pm. When staff realized he was missing, a perimeter was set up and K9 teams were brought out to help in the search, but to no avail.
"We're just trying to do what we can with what we have, and at times, there will be an offender that tests our security, and sometimes this happens," Captain John McGrath told KHQ.
Monday, investigators continued following up on leads, contacting his family and checking places Wheeler has recently lived. McGrath said Wheeler had been in Geiger since May and had a record of good behavior, which is why we was allowed to join the kitchen work staff.
Wheeler is facing charges of attempting to elude, assault on a health care worker, unlawful possession of a firearm and residential burglary, among others. Investigators don't believe he's armed, but they're still looking into how exactly he made his escape.
McGrath says Geiger is a medium security facility, which means inmates live in something similar to a "camp" setting, and aren't "locked down" per se.
But this isn't the first time an inmate has gotten over the razor wire perimeter fence.
Almost a year ago to the day, two women escaped from Geiger, but were caught in about an hour after showing up bloody at a nearby motel counter.
McGrath says one of the problems is Geiger was never meant to be a jail; it was designed to be barracks in WWII and the Korean War, and has undergone many changes since the Sheriff's Department took it over. The design of the building is an inherent problem. Also, reductions in staff, and a rising jail population don't help.
Between Geiger and the Spokane County Jail, the inmate population is 931 – that's 100 more than last year, with the same number of staff.
"In the past, it's been the lack of security," McGrath said. "There hasn't been enough fence lines, there hasn't been enough security measures like cameras to keep offenders under supervision."
That's why the Spokane County Sheriff's Department supports a ‘master plan' that would include constructing a new jail facility that would combine inmates, and the Geiger facility would be shut down.
"Having a jail that's built, that is the right size with the right number of beds, has the proper design so we have the proper staffing levels that this community can afford will be a solution that will have to be asked of the community at one point or another," McGrath added.
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