Understanding Escapes from Correctional Custody

  1. Corrections
  2. Crime Prevention
  3. Criminal Justice Reform
  4. Prisoner Reentry

Key Findings

  • The study found that, contrary to popular perception, escapes from prison are typically not violent events.
  • Prison escapes were found to be most often associated with an increase in justice involvement, such as an inmate receiving a parole denial, transfer to higher security facility, or charge for a new offense.
  • The study found that more than 92% of all inmates are captured after they escape.


In the article, “Escapes From Correctional Custody:  A New Examination of an Old Phenomenon,” Mellow and his co-authors sought to establish a new conceptualization of escapes from custody. The study included data on 611 inmates who were involved in 503 escape incidents from 398 facilities in 2009. The authors examined the current body of literature on the subject, using three different variables related to prison escapes: inmate-, incident- and facility-variables. Findings indicated that a number of inmates escaped due to some catalyst event such as receiving an administrative sanction or increased justice involvement such as parole denial, a transfer to higher security facility, or a charge for a new offense. Many escapes were found to be opportunistic. Additionally, the study found that even when escapes are planned, the plans were often not very complex, and accordingly, most escapes ended in recapture. As an important precursor to escaping from prison is increased justice involvement, the authors recommended that policy makers direct greater counseling and supervision resources to inmates after they are sentenced to help mitigate the impact of this news on escape behavior. Overall, these findings indicated that escapes from jail are a frequent, yet overlooked, phenomenon. The results challenged the misconception that escapes are often sensational and violent events.

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