After inmate walks out of prison, New Mexico examines how

Three months after an inmate said he escaped the Penitentiary of New Mexico by walking out the front door, officials are taking steps to remedy issues.

Inmate Raymond Lopez said he walked out an unlocked front door, then an unlocked gate and finally jumped a fence to escape a minimum-security unit at the Santa Fe prison on May 1.

Lopez’s criminal history includes burglary charges. He was considered a low-risk inmate at the time.

“There were several issues as far as breach of security,” said Department of Corrections Secretary David Jablonski.

After an internal review, Secretary Jablonski explains the front door that Lopez walked through had a magnetic lock that apparently only required people to buzz in when entering, but not when exiting.

He said that is no longer the case and, in addition, a corrections officer will remain at that door to monitor the area.

He said the unlocked gate was due to a mechanical failure, a malfunction that may have existed for two to three days prior.

“We had somebody come in internally that tried to address that gate, and they felt that it was addressed at that time.”

To prevent it in the future, the secretary said staff will now be required to check on the security of the fencing much more frequently.

Lopez didn’t leave in his bright orange jumpsuit either.

He said he fished regular clothes from a storage area that belonged to the “Dress for Success” program.

“It’s an important program that allows the inmates that come out on parole or are discharged from prison that gives them civilian clothes to help them find employment, and we get a lot of those civilian clothes through donations,” Jablonski said.

He said he has since sent out a directive to make sure that none of the civilian clothes are kept in any of the facilities.

“They will be housed in administrative offices or outside the perimeter of the facility,” Jablonski said.

Lopez ended up getting caught by chance, walking barefoot on Highway 14 for almost two hours before Santa Fe Sheriff’s deputies encountered him.

The prison hadn’t yet alerted law enforcement of the escape but by the time they did, Lopez had accepted a ride from deputies to a homeless shelter.

“They just put out an alert that somebody either escaped from the jail or escaped from the prison,” a deputy told Lopez.

“I didn’t,” he said, initially denying it.

“That’s not you?”

“No.”

Secretary Jablonski explained the delay in notifying law enforcement, saying it was policy to first do an emergency count of inmates to confirm that someone escaped.

He said a policy change will now alert officers right away instead.

Lopez is now in maximum security at the prison. He said he was worried about his safety because he owed someone drug money.

In response to that, Sec. Jablonski said the prison now has body scanners to better detect contraband.

The Department of Corrections is still determining whether there were any violations of policies that could result in discipline for staff.

“I hold myself accountable to make sure we have secure, safe facilities, and so I’m going above and beyond to make sure that we fix and address these issues,” Jablonski said.

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