Locks on many cells in Richmond, Va.’s jail have been fairly easy for inmates to disable, possibly since the 1960s, says the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The paper said it might take only a few hours to break the electrically powered locking mechanism on one of the jail’s antiquated cell doors, giving inmates the potential to wander free. The jail’s population is nearly 1,500 — more than 600 above capacity. Officials say inmates regularly jam the defective doors with paper, pen caps, pill cups, and other debris to keep them from locking. The jail has 248 of the antiquated locks.
An official estimated it would cost up to $150,000 to install manual locks on the remaining 200 cells that have the defective electric locks. Since the new locks must be opened by hand, the locks also mean that an extra deputy must be assigned to back up the officer unlocking the cell. Broken cell doors are being blamed in part for the death of a sexual-battery suspect who officials say was beaten to death in his cell on May 30 by a fellow inmate. Former inmates told the Times-Dispatch that as far back as the 1960s, inmates were able to use paper or plastic or debris to jam the electric-driven sliding cell doors and keep them from locking. The jail opened in 1964.