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May 10, 2023

Prisoners' escape from Philly jail was not caused by staffing shortage, city says

Authorities are searching for Ameen Hurst, 18, and Nasir Grant, 24, who broke out of the Holmesburg facility on Sunday

Investigations Prison Escape
Philly Prison Escape Street View/Google Maps

Philadelphia police and U.S. Marshals are searching for Ameen Hurst, 18, and Nasir Grant, 24, who broke out of the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center in Holmesburg on Sunday, May 7.

As the manhunt continues for two prisoners who escaped a Northeast Philly jail on Sunday, the city's Department of Prisons is denying claims from the correctional officers' union that a staff shortage contributed to the inmates' getaway.

Ameen Hurst, 18, and Nasir Grant, 24, escaped from the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center in Holmesburg around 8:30 p.m. Sunday. The two men cut a hole in a fence along the perimeter of the prison, investigators said. Their escape was not detected until a 3 p.m. head count Monday, following three earlier head counts that had overlooked their absence.

Hurst has been charged in connection to four homicides and Grant was in jail on gun and drug charges, police said. The two men were not cellmates, but were held in the same prison unit.

After their escape, AFSCME Local 159, the union representing Philadelphia correctional officers, sent a screenshot of what it said was a preliminary incident report to NBC10

It stated Hurst and Grant were "able to compromise their cell door and exit their housing unit that was unmanned due to staff shortage," adding that the men managed to "leave the grounds undetected because of post being closed due to temporary staff shortage per the order of the executive office."

On Tuesday night, the Department of Prisons said that document had been "forged" and contained inaccurate information. The department said it "categorically denies" the claim that Hurst and Grant were able to escape due to a staffing shortage.

Ameen Hurst MugshotSource/PPD

Ameen Hurst

"The Department of Prisons is committed to identifying any procedural failures that may have allowed the inmates to escape undetected and will update its protocol accordingly to ensure the security of the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center and all other facilities under its management," Prisons Commissioner Blanche Carney said.

The internal investigation will be led by the department's Office of Professional Compliance. Philadelphia police and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections also are investigating the escape.

Last week, the union unanimously voted "no confidence" in Carney, citing a staffing crisis along with health and safety conditions at city prisons. The union has remained critical of Carney in the days since the escape.

David Robinson, president of AFSCME Local 159, told NBC10 that he reached out to Mayor Jim Kenney's office about the union's issues with Carney.

Nasir Grant MugshotSource/PPD

Nasir Grant

"(The) mayor said that he supports her. That's his pick. His term is almost up so I don't see him firing her," Robinson said. "I don't see her resigning. But how many more people have to die? How many more inmates have to escape before we know enough is enough?"

The union claims armed officers that cover the Holmesburg prison's outer perimeter from 3-10 p.m. were among those temporarily eliminated. Robinson told the Inquirer the department has "cut corners" over the last year.

Several key questions about the escape remain unanswered, including when the hole was cut in the prison's fence and how the inmates' escape went undetected for nearly 19 hours, despite earlier head counts at 11 p.m. Sunday and at 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. Monday.

The prisons department said it is reviewing phone calls made by Hurst and Grant prior to their escape. Staff and other inmates at the prison are being interviewed.

The prison will remain on lockdown through Friday to enable a review of its perimeter and security points. Inmates will still have out-of-cell time for showers and medical care. Visitors are permitted if they pertain to inmates' court appointments and cases.

Philadelphia police have arrest warrants for Hurst and Grant. The department's Northeast Detectives are working with the U.S. Marshals Service to find the two inmates.

The city has set a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrests of the escaped inmates, who are considered dangerous. Anyone with information is asked to call the Northeast Detectives at (215) 686-3153, the police tip line at (215) 546-TIPS, or 911.