TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Nearly 40 years after James Robert Jones walked away from the famed prison at Fort Leavenworth, he returned to military custody this week to find the historic structure gone and the corrections system changed.
Jones, 59, arrived back in Kansas on Tuesday and was placed at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks where he is expected to serve out the remaining time on a 23-year sentence for killing a fellow soldier at Fort Dix, N.J., in 1974. He escaped in 1977, and was considered one of the Army’s 15 most-wanted fugitives when U.S. Marshals arrested him in Florida earlier this month.
Jones likely doesn’t recognize the prison system since his escape in 1977, said Anita Gorecki Robbins, a military defense attorney who spent six years with the Army judicial staff.
The old building’s high walls and towers lent themselves to its name, “The Castle,” which was located on the north end of the post’s main section. The prison was located a few blocks away from the post’s rows of stately red-brick homes dating the early to mid-1800s.
“It was drafty, smelly, cold, everything you would expect from a dilapidated old prison,” Gorecki-Robbins said from her Washington, D.C., office. “He may have been able to somehow walk out of The Castle, but things have now been computerized in a new facility. The current (prison) is virtually inescapable.”
Between 1977 and 1998, there were seven escapes involving 11 prisoners at the disciplinary barracks, but all but Jones had been recaptured.
The new prison opened in 2002 on the far north end of Fort Leavenworth. The post is also home to the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College, where the military’s best and brightest go for advanced education. The building looks more like a modern community college surrounded by a landscape of rolling hills, with the cells housed in pods arranged around a common area.
George Marcec, an Army civilian spokesman at Fort Leavenworth, said Jones was “being processed just like a new inmate, based on the time that he was gone.” That means, Gorecki-Robbins said, Jones will go through the normal medical and mental health checks once in the prison and authorities would determine the level of security custody in which he’ll be placed.
Jones was arrested March 13 outside the Pompano Beach, Fla., business where he worked.
Authorities used facial recognition technology to identify Jones, who was living in Deerfield Beach, some 17 miles north of Fort Lauderdale, under the name Bruce Walter Keith. Authorities matched an old military photograph of Jones with a Florida driver’s license issued in 1981 in Keith’s name.
The new prison, still on the Army post that’s on the banks of the Missouri River north of the Kansas City metro area, has a capacity of 515 inmates, though daily population is around 450.
Jones will find himself among the oldest inmates, Gorecki-Robbins said, with the average age somewhere around 25, a figure based on her years of experience in military cases.
Among the most well-known inmates currently housed at Fort Leavenworth include Chelsea Elizabeth Manning, the Army private who was convicted as Bradley Edward Manning and sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking U.S. secrets to WikiLeaks; and Nidal Hasan, who was convicted and sentenced to death in the 2009 attack on Fort Hood that killed 13 people and wounded more than 30.