Sheriff's office defends trustee program after inmate escapes

The Polk Sheriff's Office has confidence in its inmate trustee program, that had a recent escape.

LAKELAND, Fla. (WTSP) -- Polk County trustee inmate Joseph Flanagin is back behind bars after taking off in a county-owned pickup truck.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office says he stole the truck from his work assignment, the county’s fleet garage in Bartow.

“He was in an environment where the vehicles were there and he took advantage of it,” said Donna Wood, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office.

The search led deputies to the neighborhood where Flanagin lived, off U.S. 98 in Lakeland. It worried neighbors like Samantha Fowler.

“I have a 2-year-old. It's motherly instincts. You get scared automatically,” she said.

Deputies found the truck Flanagin took about a mile from that neighborhood along Mark Lane in Lakeland. They found him the next morning, almost 30 miles from the garage in Bartow.

Even though Flanigan wasn't found in this neighborhood, it still makes Fowler worry about how well trustee inmates are supervised.

“I agree with the program and all, but I think there should be more cops,” she explained.

The sheriff's office defends its program. Wood said it saves taxpayers money and lets nonviolent inmates contribute to society. She said escapes are rare.

“We have inmates who have worked under direct supervision for the sheriff's office for years and years and years,” she said. “This is the first time in my recollection that we've had to talk about this on camera.”

Flanagin had less than 250 days left in his sentence 300-day sentence. Now he could spend up to 15 years in jail if convicted, Wood said.


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