WREG investigates inmates escaping from rural jails and what is being done to fix the problem

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — WREG is looking at some of the struggles small jails in rural counties face.

It's a problem small jails across the Mid-South face. Dangerous fugitives are escaping the walls that are supposed to keep them inside.

Four Coahoma County inmates escaped over the summer, but it took months to catch up with all of them.

And three inmates escaped the Macon County Jail near Nashville in November.

They're back behind bars.

Most recently making headlines was Antoine Adams. He is accused of three murders and broke out of the Marshall County Jail.

Mario Buckley says he spent time with Adams at the facility. He says Adams told him he was going to break out.

"We were in the tank one day and he said, 'Man, if I get a chance I'm getting out of here. I'm gone.' I looked at him and said, 'Bro, I don't blame you. You know, people say that in jail all the time but you don't pay them any attention. He was for real," Buckley said.

It took nearly a month and a half before Adams was caught hundreds of miles away in Houston. He was accused of shoplifting at a Walmart.

So how did he get out in the first place?

"Well, it has to do with the way the jail was constructed. It was a narrow window with a thin bar in the middle. There is enough space between the bar and the wall for a person of thin build to come out, and that's exactly what he did," Marshall County Sheriff Kenny Dickerson says. "I can hit the windows, and I can shatter it myself. I hit one when I was in there and shattered it."

Sheriff Dickerson says someone was waiting outside to pick up Adams.

That man now sits in jail.

But the Sheriff says part of the problem boils down to construction. He says the jail was poorly built 19 years ago.

Glass that was designed not to break turns out to be breakable.

Right as Adams escaped, jail officials were actually in the process of putting thick steel plates over the windows. The inmate's cell just hadn't been reached yet.

The jailer who was supposed to be monitoring the camera's at the time has been fired.

The Sheriff does not believe that jailer was conspiring with Adams, but instead thinks he wasn't paying attention or wasn't at his post.

"Well, it was beyond frustrating to be honest with you," the Sheriff says.

It was frustrating not just for the Sheriff, but a map shows jail escapes were reported in 2017 not far from Memphis - stretching from Mississippi to the Missouri bootheel and Nashville area.

In those cases inmates overpowered guards, broke through walls or found other clever ways to get out.

"It's unreal what they'll figure out in order to do to get out of a cell," Sheriff Dickerson says.

Some inmates sneak in contraband, pick locks and remove light fixtures.

Sheriff Dickerson says his jail, like many others, faces issues when it comes to money from the state, but they're working to make changes and are starting the process of building a new facility.

"Our new facility is going to have more updated and better locks. It will have better technology and designs than what we've got here," he says.

Tipton County is also investing in a new jail infrastructure.

WREG went on a tour of the jail's recent expansion, costing just under $3 million.

It went from 122 beds to 201.

They've also added room for other facilities, like an education room to help curb the number of repeat offenders.

"Some of the biggest jail grades that we've updated here is actually adding. Instead of the toilet or washbasins being on the backside of the facility, everything actually comes inward," Lieutenant John Weatherly, who oversees jail operations, said.

"If they were to bust that toilet loose, that would also come inside instead of outside. There is no egrest outside of our recreation doors," he said.

He also said they work to make sure jailer stay alert.

"We're ensuring that those officers are making their walk-through's. We make sure they're doing what they're supposed to do," Weatherly says.

The Sheriff in charge, Sheriff J.T Pancho Chumley, told WREG for every one day, a jail ages three days.

Along with making crucial updates, he does not allow inmates to watch TV or lift weights.

"This is not supposed to be luxury. It there's not any kind of punishment and fear following crime, then where are we at?" the Sheriff asked.