Tue, May 09, 2000 - Page 1 News List

Warden is replaced as inmates remain free

JAILBREAK The ease with which two prisoners escaped from a Taichung detention center has led investigators to believe that it may have been an inside job

By Jou Ying-cheng  /  STAFF REPORTER

In response to the dramatic escape of two armed prisoners from the Taichung Detention Center on Sunday, officials yesterday trans-ferred the prison's warden as a first step toward assigning responsibility for the embarrassing episode.

The possibility that the jailbreak was planned jointly by the prisoners and at least one of their jailers is also being investigated.

The prison break occurred early Sunday morning when death row inmate Huang Chu-wang (黃主旺) and robbery suspect Yang Han-peng (楊漢鵬), both apparently armed with handguns, took two guards hostage and -- without raising the alarm -- walked out of the facility and drove away in a car belonging to one of the guards.

None of the episode was caught on surveillance video and apparently no one was aware of the escape until one of the guards taken hostage later telephoned the prison after being released.

The car used in the daring escape was found abandoned not far from the scene. But the two escapees, as well as a guard, Hsu Chang-ching (徐長慶) -- suspected of being an accomplice -- are still missing. A large-scale manhunt was continuing yesterday.

The likelihood that other detention center staffers were involved in a conspiracy has not been ruled out.

When questioned as to whether Hsu was an inside collaborator who single-handedly smuggled the two felons out of the prison, the Director of the Corrections Department, Huang Chen-nan (黃徵男) said simply: "No."

Meanwhile, the official said the incident may have stemmed from widespread problems within Taiwan's prison system, such as a lack of human resources and low pay for prison staff.

The Ministry of Justice held an urgent meeting late Sunday night and into the early hours yesterday morning -- where officials decided to immediately replace the facility's warden, Lee Tai-shun (李太順), and security chief Lin Tu-chih (林篤志). The warden's transfer took place yesterday afternoon.

Ministry officials said the detention center's top officials are responsible for the escape, and the quick replacement of officials would help the ongoing investigation.

Minister of Justice Yeh Chin-fong (葉金鳳) yesterday apologized to the public "for the harm the escapees could cause, as well as public concern."

Two investigative task forces have been established -- one from the Public Prosecutors' Office of the Taiwan High Court and another headed by the Taichung District Prosecutors' Office -- with Yeh demanding results within five days.

The minister, whose term will come to end on May 20, asked detention center officials to cooperate with the investigation after the replacement of the two top officials.

"Any misconduct will not be shielded," Yeh said.

"There are still many suspicious points," Corrections Department director Huang said.

He said security gates, for example, should be padlocked on the outside -- but were not even bolted shut.

Huang also clarified yesterday that there were five staffers at the control center at that time but that Hsu was not body-searched when he entered the cell block, as is required procedure.

He denied earlier reports that that there was no one on duty.

Huang said security regulations themselves were not the problem -- rather, that they were not always practiced. The ministry has notified all correction institutions nationwide to follow security regulations strictly and that frequent spot-checks will be conducted.

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