Escaped inmate in custody following arrest in Three Rivers

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Cass County inmate’s escape from the confines of the Cassopolis jailhouse lasted just over a day, after police arrested the man in St. Joseph County Sunday evening.

Jason Matthew Graham, 20, was taken back into custody around 7 p.m. in Three Rivers, a little over 24 hours after he first walked off from his work detail outside Cass County Jail on Saturday. He has since been returned to confinement in Cass County, where he is expected to be charged with a count of breaking, escaping or leaving jail.

Graham, a resident of Three Rivers, was serving as an inmate worker with the facility at the time of his escape, working inside the jail kitchen. At around 6:35 p.m. Saturday, Graham was tasked with taking out some garbage to the dumpster outside when he decided to flee on foot from the premises, said Undersheriff Richard Behnke.

“He saw that he had an opportunity to escape while on work detail, and took advantage of it,” Behnke said.

Like other participants in the inmate worker program, Graham was considered a low-risk inmate, and selected after an extensive screening process, Behnke said.

Graham had been incarcerated at the county jail since Sept. 10, where he was serving a 300-day sentence for violating probation, Behnke said. Graham had been serving on probation following conviction of obstruction of justice in July.

While authorities are still in the process of determining how he got there, Graham eventually made his way back to Three Rivers, where many friends and relatives still lived, Behnke said.

Shortly after the man’s escape, the Cass County Sheriff’s Office and other local police agencies mobilized to find the escaped inmate, and contacted local residents by phone to make them aware of the situation. Southwestern Michigan College’s Dowagiac campus was briefly placed on lockdown Saturday following the escape, but the order was quickly lifted due to low safety risk Graham posed to the public.

A combination of investigative work and tips from citizens led police to Graham’s location in Three Rivers, where officers with the sheriff’s office, assisted by the Three Rivers Police Department and St. Joseph County Sheriff’s Office, apprehended the man without incident.

Police are still in the process of interviewing Graham to determine why he decided to walk away from his work detail, the undersheriff said.

While the Graham has been the first prisoner to flee from the county jail in quite a few years, the sheriff’s office has made some changes for its security surrounding the inmate worker program following the incident, Behnke said.

“It’s a necessary program,” he said about the inmate worker program. “We just have to make sure it’s run in the right way. Seeing as this was the first time someone has walked off in many, many years, we feel we are doing a good job of that.”