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Federal prison camp in Taft responsible for inordinate share of escapes

The Taft Correctional Institution is seen in Taft, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

Inmates at a fenceless prison camp in Taft keep walking away.

With six escapes in 2016 -- eight in the last 18 months -- the Taft Correctional Institution's satellite camp is among the nation's leaders in the category, according to federal data obtained by Thursday by Eyewitness News.

There are 68 federal prisons in the U.S. that have satellite camps, which are minimum-security facilities that house lower level offenders involved in work programs. The camps are tethered to more conventional low-, medium- or high-security prisons. Taft is the only privately operated prison in the country with a camp.

There were 34 reported escapes in 2016 from prison camps across the country, meaning that Taft is responsible for losing 17.6 percent of the fugitives.

Bureau of Prison officials told Eyewitness News that the Marshals Service is the agency tasked with recovering fugitives from federal prison.

Eyewitness asked the Marshal Service late last year about he status of the seven most-recent runaways.

Eyewitness News received the following responses in a letter that arrived in January.

The agency has "insufficient knowledge to conduct a search," for three of the fugitives, "failed to locate any Marshals Service records" on two others and denied information about the status of two more, using an exemption in public record law that allows law enforcement to shield information that may "interfere with enforcement proceedings."

"I would hope that they would keep our communities a little more safe by making sure that prisoners can't escape, putting fences around the areas that prisoners are accessible to that could keep them more confined where they're supposed to be," said Taft resident Tracy Easley.

"It's worrisome," said Donald Harrison. "Somebody needs to tighten up somewhere."

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