Juvenile detention center director details escape - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

Juvenile detention center director details escape to commissioners

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(07/11/12) - There are new details Wednesday about how a Flint teenager, charged with murder, was able to escape from custody last month.

Mark Jones, 16, was out for nearly one week before being arrested again in Flint.

He is now in the Genesee County Jail, not back at the county's juvenile detention center.

When Jones escaped, walked away handcuffed and shackled at the feet, he was in the care of staff from the county's juvenile detention center.

Jones had been at the Genesee Valley Regional Center, or GVRC, since being charged in November 2010. Jones is awaiting trial in the November 2010 murder of 73-year-old Merlyne Wray in Flint. He also faces additional charges tied to his escape.

At the request of Genesee County Commissioners, GVRC Director Fred Woelmer explained how Jones was able to escape two transporters, GVRC staff, with him at a therapy session, in Flint, June 15.

Jones was arrested, after a massive manhunt by the Michigan State Police fugitive team and Flint Police, June 21.

Jones had been in therapy, on a set schedule, the entire time he's been in custody, according to Woelmer.

That's nearly two years.

Jones' mother and therapist had privacy concerns, Woelmer says, in the months before his escape.

"At this particular appointment site, there's been concern about the confidentiality of the meeting of the youth with their therapist," Woelmer says.

Woelmer says, at the site, New Passages, the guard was asked to sit outside the room previously and on June 15 was asked to move away from the wall.

He did, against GVRC rules, and lost sight of Jones.

"(The) therapist took him to the bathroom, went back to her office and about 3-4-5 minutes later, came out and said, 'Mark's gone,'" Woelmer says.

The GVRC employee was demoted last week and is no longer transporting teens.

Woelmer says staff has since been re-trained on what he calls "solid" procedures already in place.

Wednesday, Woelmer also talked about a proposal to put the transport of juvenile offenders, like Jones, back to the Genesee County Sheriff's Department.

He explained a new rule all lock ups and jails will have to follow soon or risk losing grant money.

The U.S. Department of Justice is restricting placing anyone 18 and under with adult inmates.

In Genesee County, those youthful offenders, in the 17 - 18 age group, are held at the county jail. There are about 40-50 of them.

Woelmer says GVRC could provide housing for that group, at least in the interim.

"We have a plan. It will require two additional staff members. Those staff members would be assigned to GVRC," says Undersheriff Chris Swanson.

The plan would take care of safety concerns when transporting teenagers charged like Jones, as adults, and federal mandates.

"By having that extra population in our facility, that are in adult court, then we'd go back with the sheriff doing transporting," Woelmer says.

"But we still have to be realistic and make sure we're within the budget," says Omar Sims.

The proposal still needs to be funded.

There's another committee meeting next week to talk about if that is possible.

Those two additional deputies would cost about $130,000/year, Swanson says.

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