Alert system fails after Central Ore. prison escape

Alert system fails after Central Ore. prison escape
Clinton Swearingen

MADRAS, Ore. (AP) — An automated system designed to make residents of a Central Oregon town aware of escapes from a nearby prison failed after a 31-year-old man apparently scaled the prison fence and vanished.

Residents living near the Madras-area prison are supposed to receive immediate recorded telephone alerts about emergency situations.

But many did not hear about the escape until almost 10 hours later, when police came knocking on their doors, KTVZ-TV reported.

"It makes me pretty upset and concerned that they don't do what they promised to do. And on top of that, how can you trust them?" said Jerry Patterson, who lives near the prison and whose SUV was stolen after the escape.

His Chevrolet Blazer was found in Madras, touching off a search. But the inmate, Clinton Orvill Swearingen, couldn't be found. Officers said it appeared he'd changed his clothes and left the area.

Swearingen was serving time on theft and burglary convictions in Linn County. He escaped Sunday and remained at large Tuesday.

Officials at the Deer Ridge Correctional Institution apologized about the automated alerts and said a new contractor is working on the system.

"We're deeply sorry for that communication breakdown," spokeswoman Marissa Wilson said. "We're working on our current system with that new contractor, looking to update those contacts and phone numbers, to make sure that we can make those appropriate contacts again."

It was the first escape from inside the 7-year-old minimum security prison — an inmate last year walked away from an outside work detail but was recaptured three days later.

It's the second escape from an Oregon minimum-security facility in less than a week. Last Wednesday, 30-year-old Matthew Medlin jumped a fence and fled the Columbia River Correctional Institution in Portland.

He was serving time for burglary, sex abuse and assault and fled just days before his scheduled release. He was caught later that day at a fast-food restaurant and now faces added charges.

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Information from: KTVZ-TV