Bill aims to prevent prison escapes by toughening punishments for such attempts

It’s been just a little over one week since two escaped inmates from a prison in the Florence area were caught, and as a result of that, lawmakers are pushing for harsher punishments for any other inmates who try to escape.

"Send a message to these guys that you are going to get caught, and you are going to pay the price," said State Rep. David Cook.

House Bill 2790, if passed, will move the first-degree charge of escaping prison up from a Class 4 felony to a Class 2 felony, potentially costing an escaped inmate an extra three to 35 years in prison.

State Rep. Cook says this should act as a deterrent for prisoners looking to escape, even for those facing life sentences.

"If they start out at a high, medium classification and they go to medium, they can work their way down over time to a minimal custody level," said State Rep. Cook. "What happens is if they escape, they will never be able to work their way down to minimum custody again."

State Rep. Cook says the prison where John Charpiot and David Harmon made their escape is in his legislative district, and when the escape took place, the victims of their crimes reportedly had to be notified, which brought up the pain of it all over again.

"Now, they relive that situation again, and then they have to wonder if they are now going to be a victim or a target again," said State Rep. Cook.

In addition, the search effort, which spanned several weeks, took time away from area law enforcement and put community members in danger, when State Rep. Cook says the main goal in all of this is to help keep the community safe.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing in the State House, and if it does pass through the State House and the State Senate and signed by Governor Doug Ducey, it might still impact those two prisoners who escaped and were later caught, because they have yet to be charged.