For the third time since May, an Orleans Parish Prison inmate had to be hunted down and captured this week after he wandered away from a job he held as part of the Sheriff’s Office’s transitional work program.
James Pellegrin, 23, left his job at a local business at around 7:20 p.m. Monday. Deputies found him 16 hours later, at about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, at a Mid-City apartment complex.
The Sheriff’s Office did not announce his absence until after he was returned to the prison.
His escape was the latest in a string of incidents at the long-troubled prison.
An inmate committed suicide over the weekend, and four others were injured in a stabbing two weeks ago.
Pellegrin is a state inmate, convicted on drug charges in Jefferson Parish, but serving his sentence at Orleans Parish Prison.
On Monday evening, deputies went to the business to meet Pellegrin, who allegedly had violated the terms of his transitional work agreement.
The business’s manager told the deputies that Pellegrin had left five minutes earlier.
The Sheriff’s Office launched a search and found Pellegrin at the Mid-City apartment.
Pellegrin, who has a prior conviction for drug and drug paraphernalia charges, pleaded guilty in Jefferson Parish in February 2009 to possession with intent to distribute marijuana, according to court records. He was sentenced to five years of probation.
He continually violated the terms of his release, according to court records.
At least five times, he was hauled back into court and sent back to Jefferson Parish Prison for short stints — 24 hours, 48 hours, 60 days.
Finally, in October 2011, a judge revoked his probation and ordered him to prison to serve out his five-year term.
He was assigned to the Orleans Parish work-release program in May, according to Pam Laborde, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections. He was scheduled to be released in February, with his parole stretching to November 2015.
He has been rebooked with simple escape, punishable by six months to a year in jail. S
tate law requires that the sentence be tacked on top of whatever sentence the inmate in currently serving.
The Department of Corrections can hand inmates over to local work-release programs once their sentence has been whittled to two years or less. Participants work in various jobs around the city, in a program designed to ease their transition back into civilian life.
Deputies drop the inmates off in the morning and pick them up again at night to take them back to jail.
Philip Stelly, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, said he was not aware of any plans to tighten security measures or rework assignments after the spate of inmates who have wandered away.
In May, two inmates similarly walked away from their transitional work jobs.
Leroy Smith, 29, reported to his workplace one evening but was reported missing at around 12:30 a.m. He was found more than a week later, hiding out in New Orleans East.
Several weeks earlier, another inmate took a break just after noon and didn’t return. The business reported his absence to the Sheriff’s Office. The inmate came back about an hour later, and deputies arrested him for the unexcused absence.
The jail long has been beset by escapes, especially from the Temporary Housing Center, called the “tents.”
But it was another sort of jailbreak that became an embarrassing centerpiece of the federal court battle over a consent decree mandating reforms at the city’s jail.
The city, fighting the sheriff over who must pay for the improvements, found a video of inmates using drugs, drinking beer, playing dice and unloading a gun. The video was recorded in the now-closed House of Detention in 2009.
Some prisoners who had been housed there alleged that two inmates had figured out how to jimmy the lock and came and went from the tier essentially as they pleased, bringing in the beer, drugs and gun with them.
The pair eventually escaped for good and were tracked down days later. One was caught with the video of the in-jail escapades.
But the video remained in a safe at the Sheriff’s Office, unseen, until the city found it there this year in preparing for the legal battle over the consent decree.
In late September, four men were taken to the hospital after a bloody fight broke out in the jail. Deputies investigating the incident found six homemade shanks.