- Associated Press - Sunday, July 19, 2015

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - A South Dakota inmate walked away from a minimum-security unit in Sioux Falls last week and allegedly went on to commit a string of crimes across Minnesota, but state corrections officials say they still believe their system of classifying inmates is working.

Clint Eldeen, a 46-year-old inmate serving 20 years for writing bad checks, left the campus of the State Penitentiary on July 10 and allegedly committed a string of crimes in both states before being arrested in a Minneapolis suburb on Wednesday.

Denny Kaemingk, the secretary for the Department of Corrections, said that officials will have to review Eldeen’s case but said the vast majority of inmates in minimum-security units stay put and don’t leave and commit crimes.

In the fiscal year that ended in June, 11 of the more than 740 minimum-security inmates left the prison grounds and didn’t return.

“We really believe that our assessments and classification policy are very sound,” he said.

The number of inmates who have left minimum-security units in South Dakota over the past decade has increased slightly but steadily, according to data provided by the Department of Corrections. In 2006, two inmates walked away or escaped from South Dakota prisons; in 2013, it was 16.

Kaemingk said officials looked through policy changes and haven’t found anything that would explain the increase.

Over the past 15 years, Kaemingk said he was unaware of any violence committed by inmates who escaped from minimum-security facilities, all of which are unfenced. Inmates come and go steadily for work release and community service every day.

It’s unclear how much each escape costs South Dakota taxpayers. Kaemingk said he wasn’t sure how the state could quantify work that requires both state and local resources.

In South Dakota, corrections officials look at five risk areas when considering in which of the four types of prison facilities to place inmates, said Rick Leslie, who oversees classification for the system. Officials look at what an inmate’s serving time for; how long their sentence is; any history of violence; their past behavior in prison; and if they have any type of escape history in their past.

Certain crimes, like sex offenses, automatically elevate an inmate to a higher security level.

Incidents like the Eldeen case shouldn’t necessarily cause officials to change how they classify inmates, JaneAnne Murray, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School who worked as a criminal defense attorney for many years, said in an email. The only way to avoid mistakes would be to put more inmates in medium and high-security prisons that are more expensive and less likely to rehabilitate the inmates, she said.

“In my view, that’s not where we want to go with our prisons,” she said.

In South Dakota, minimum-security units are significantly cheaper places to house inmates, according to data from the Department of Corrections. It costs almost $23 per day to house an inmate at the men’s minimum unit in Sioux Falls compared to nearly $72 per day at high-medium and maximum units.

Eldeen, who was serving 20 years for passing checks that weren’t connected to a bank account, has a lengthy criminal history ranging from forgery to felony drug possession.

Authorities say Eldeen left the unfenced minimum-security unit of the State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls the night of July 10. From there, they say he waited until a pizza delivery driver left his car unattended and stole it.

He later swiped the plates off a vehicle on display at a car dealership in Faribault, Minnesota, before heading toward Lakeville and stealing gas from a Super America, police said. He eventually found his way to Roseville where he walked into a Bremer Bank, gave a teller a handwritten note that demanded money and implied he had a gun, then fled.

Eldeen is suspected of robbing two more banks in nearby Richfield several days later. He was caught in a casino in Prior Lake on Wednesday.

Kyle Loeven, a spokesman with the FBI in Minneapolis, said Eldeen’s behavior was striking, particularly because didn’t make any attempt to cover his face before robbing the Roseville bank.

“And so that’s somewhat of a concern,” he said, “because it denotes that the individual has no concern for the fact that he has placed himself out there for the public to see.”

Despite Eldeen’s criminal past, he wasn’t considered a flight risk, Kaemingk said.

“Although he committed a number of felonies over the years, it was based on non-violent offenses and it just didn’t appear it was in his character for this,” he said, “but he did it anyway.”

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