GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - A recent escape attempt and assault at the Kent County Correctional Facility put a female guard in the hospital -- and raised questions about the jail's security practices.
The early Friday morning assault on the female guard by an inmate attempting to escape lasted for about 10 minutes before other guards arrived to help her.
By that time, other inmates actually came to the guard's rescue. Some broke down doors to get to her -- leading to even more questions about security.
The guard was beaten and choked so severely that she lost consciousness.
The possibility of an attack is always real to those who work in corrections.
"It's scary. And like I said, it's life or death," former corrections officer Carl Olsen told 24 Hour News 8. "You've got to fight for your life or at least just to stay alive and save yourself if you can. 'Cause that's the bottom line -- going home at the end of the day."
Olsen was a Kent County Corrections officer for 25 years and retired in July.
Olsen said he has complained for years about the setup at the jail -- specifically, about the lack of personnel in certain areas.
Sheriff's officials say one guard is standard practice at night since inmates are supposed to be locked up.
Cameras, monitored by two corrections officers in another part of the jail, are supposed to watch over the pods and handle other duties.
"The amount of time it took for any officers to respond had directly to do with the fact that the two officers are overwhelmed with so much stuff to do anyway," he said.
Olsen said he had warned his bosses about the potential for problems.
"They can't all be watched at the same time. It's physically impossible," said Olsen.
Kent County Undersheriff Jon Hess declined to comment on camera and was reluctant to talk about specific security measures to avoid future attempted break outs, but said most of the jail's pods are set up and secured the same way.
As for some inmates being able to break through doors to help the guard, Hess says the security of those doors is based on the security level of inmates in that pod. In the case of the Friday escape attempt, it was a medium-security area.
Olsen said he's speaking out about some long-time concerns. He was also a member of the union representing corrections workers -- a union that voted not to back Kent County Sheriff Lawrence Stelma in the recent election.
But, he said, he doesn't have an ax to grind with the sheriff's administration.
"I'm not saying he's a bad person," Olsen said. "But there's some serious issues here that aren't being addressed."
Stelma told 24 Hour News 8 on Friday no matter what security is in place, jails are full of dangerous, aggressive and sometimes desperate people who will do anything to get out.
Olsen said he agrees with that statement.
"But," he qualified, "there's common sense that can be used to eliminate the possibility of this stuff happening."
The guard who was attacked had been on the job just nine months.
Hess said it's not unusual for a guard who's still a probationary employee to be assigned to a pod at night because of the typically low level of risk.
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