James O’Neil Moore, 38, and Johnathan Ray Madison, 27, were taken into custody by jail personnel outside the main building but still inside security fencing that surrounds the complex.
They escaped through a back door at the jail at approximately 7:30 p.m. Both were taken into custody less than five minutes later.
Moore was being held in the jail on charges of unlawful possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Madison was jailed for unlawful possession of a controlled substance and for violating probation on charges of second-degree theft of property, first-degree receiving stolen property and unlawful possession of a controlled substance.
Both are now facing additional charges, including escape and promoting prison contraband.
“They were recaptured on county property, but they were outside the facility,” jail administrator Trent McCluskey said Wednesday night.
McCluskey said jailer Jason Akins was monitoring the inmates from a central command post, saw Moore and Madison walk out the back door and quickly alerted jailers, who took the two into custody.
Officials at the Walker County District Attorney’s Office were notified of the escape, as were members of the Walker County Commission, who have addressed problems with security at the jail in recent meetings.
“The commissioners are saying they are going to work with us and assist us,” McCluskey said. “Public safety has got to be the priority here. It’s a county jail and it’s got to be secure. We have some violent people in the county jail. We have an entire dorm of sex offenders, and we have people facing life sentences. We have others with similar charges pending against them.”
McCluskey said an inmate was returned from Mississippi earlier Wednesday on escape charges. “And we’re returning him to a jail where the doors are not secure,” he said.
As of Wednesday night, 228 inmates were being housed in the Walker County Jail, McCluskey said, including many jailed for violent crimes.
“Classifying these prisoners to be housed in a safe manner — that means for public safety, inmate safety and employee safety — you can’t push the numbers like we’re pushing them,” McCluskey said. “You just can’t.”
County commissioner Dan Wright said late Wednesday that he took a proposal to other commissioners Wednesday morning to try to correct the problem with security at the jail.
“I carried a proposal up there Wednesday and gave it to (commission chairman) Billy (Luster) and put it in all the commissioners’ boxes,” Wright said. “We have a gentleman who has offered to come up and take all the locks out, check them all and make sure they work and let us know exactly where we stand and what we need to do.”
Wright was working Wednesday night to help McCluskey and the jail staff secure the facility as much as possible.
“This is not a fix, it’s just something to help them out for now,” Wright said. “This issue needs to be fixed, and it needs to be addressed quick.”