Mentally Ill School Shooter TJ Lane Escapes Violent, Overcrowded Ohio Prison

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UPDATE: Lane has been captured. What’s next?

In April, Ohio’s Correctional Institution Inspection Committee (CIIC) inspected the Allen Oakwood Correctional Center. They found the facility overcrowded and over capacity, but still gave it ‘high marks.’

The committee noted that one of its main concerns was the conditions of confinement for “higher security inmates […] including ones in the Protective Control Unit.”

The CIIC also noted that, although there hadn’t been any escapes, there were at least two attempts in the past two years. There was also a growing number of violent incidents taking place at the prison, with an astounding 60% increase in inmate-on-staff violence from 2012-2013.

News outlets are reporting tonight that 19 year-old TJ Lane and one other inmate have escaped from Allen Oakwood. Lane was in the high security protective custody area the CIIC had warned staff about, and it seems conditions haven’t much improved in the past five months.

The teenager is serving three consecutive life terms for killing three of his fellow students and injuring two others when he opened fire in the school’s cafeteria. He was wearing a t-shirt with ‘KILLER’ written across the front in court and during the shooting, something you’re likely to hear a lot about in the coming days.

What you’re not likely to hear about is that some kids bullied Lane, who also suffered from mental health issues and was a victim of domestic violence. This is not to excuse or defend his deplorable act, but to give context to the story of his incarceration.

ABC News reported in February, 2012, that Lane’s father and mother were abusive to one another. His father was “charged with assaulting a police officer and served time in prison after trying to suffocate another woman he married several years after his son was born.”

At the time of the killing, Lane was living with his grandparents and had many step and half-siblings. His peers considered him an outcast.

Lane’s lawyers filed a NGRI plea and said he “suffered for years from visual and auditory hallucinations and severe migraines.” He eventually plead guilty to two counts of attempted aggravated murder and one count of felonious assault.

He is serving his sentence in an adult facility even though he was just 17 at the time of the shooting. He has struggled to adjust to life behind bars and was put in solitary for carving tattoos into himself. He continued to make headlines for his defiance of prison staff.

Now Lane has escaped, and no one at the moment knows where he is or what might happen. But the police are searching for him and are asking for the public to help.

Where was the community concern and cooperation around Lane before he killed those children? Prison culture tells us not to intervene to help people like Lane. Instead, we sit back and wait for him to slip up or explode. When he does, we lock him up and throw away the key, and treat him in ways that directly encourage and exacerbate his problems.

I understand and share the anger at the completely senseless murder of children. Lane deserved punishment by courts, but he is clearly a sick person in need of medical attention. Was this the right punishment?

Lane told cops after his arrest that “he had ‘killed a bunch of people’ but that he didn’t know why he fired the shots.” At what point do we decide a person needs help instead of marginalization? Everyone lost in this scenario.

We should recognize by now that prisons are obsolete institutions for people like Lane, and we should be asking what we as a society hoped to gain by putting him there in the first place. From the killings to his escape, things didn’t have to be this way.

Brian Sonenstein
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Brian Sonenstein

Brian Sonenstein is a Berkeley-based writer, activist and former Campaign Director and Associate Publisher for Firedoglake.com. Learn more at http://briansonenstein.com
Brian Sonenstein
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