TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Lawmakers were told Wednesday there's no way to be 100 percent sure that inmates won't find a way to escape using fraudulent release orders, like two men convicted of murder who recently walked out of a Franklin County prison.
Law enforcement, court and corrections officials speaking before a Senate committee said steps have already been taken to prevent prisoners from using forged release papers to escape. They said that the process will become more secure as courts move to an electronic filing system, but that they can't guarantee they can prevent someone at some point from finding a way to beat the system.
"One of the things that we have to realize, no matter how secure a system is, when you have individuals who have 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, they become quite ingenious," said Chief Circuit Judge Belvin Perry, whose signature was forged on the release papers that Joseph Jenkins and Charles Walker used to escape from prison.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Baily said there are many ways to make sure electronic systems are secure, including the use of encrypted documents. But, he added, "I can't tell you with 100 percent accuracy that someday, someone will not figure out how to hack" the system.
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice asked officials to go over release procedures and what changes have been made since it was discovered that Walker and Jenkins were released. Jenkins was released Sept. 27, and Walker was set free Oct. 8.
The Department of Corrections has already begun making sure officials verify directly with judges before releasing any prisoners whose sentences have been reduced. Secretary Michael Crews said that while he is legally obligated to provide law libraries in prisons, he also is looking at possibly eliminating access to computers and printers where he can legally do so. FDLE believes the documents Jenkins and Walker used to escape were produced in the prison.
Crews' department is also reviewing 9,300 documents that changed or modified a release date. So far, 7,800 cases have been checked and no forgeries were found, he said.
State Courts Administrator Lisa Goodner said all the state's chief circuit court judges have participated in a conference call to discuss immediate steps that can be taken to prevent escapes.
"This is certainly at the top of our agenda," Goodner said. "I feel very confident that all the chief judges and judges of criminal divisions are well aware of the problem at this point and working with the department and the (court) clerks to resolve it."
Sen. Charlie Dean, a former sheriff, praised efforts to improve release procedures, but he also had a warning.
"You never, never, ever will shut down the cunning and idea process of people that are in jail for being bad people from thinking bad things and to be able to use that ability to beat the system. It's just not going to happen," said Dean, R-Inverness. "We always have to be one step ahead."
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