COVINGTON, La. -- St. Tammany deputies continued their search for a convicted burglar who escaped from a work release program last Friday night.
Responding to questions about why the public wasn’t notified about the escape until Sunday, St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Rodney “Jack” Strain characterized it as a “breach of contract.”
Martin White, 31, was serving out the remainder of his burglary sentence at Northshore Workforce LLC, a privately owned work release facility contracted by the sheriff to run one of two work release programs in the parish.
White was originally convicted of burglary in Franklin Parish in Northeast Louisiana. He was transferred to St. Tammany Parish by the Louisiana Department of Corrections to serve out the rest of his sentence in the St. Tammany work release program.
Friday night, White was working at the Chimes restaurant in Covington. Strain confirmed Tuesday that White allegedly stole a car while on his shift at the restaurant.
Spokesman George Bonnett said White was believed to be out of the Metro area Tuesday evening.
“I know it's convenient to say that an inmate escaped, but the fact of the matter is, these are people who are in work release. They walk away from a job. They are entrusted that they will not do that, but unfortunately some of them do stupid things and this guy was apparently one of them,” Strain said.
Two weeks ago, Jonathon Leger, 40, walked off the job at a Mandeville moving company and allegedly robbed two people, stabbing someone in the neck with a box cutter during one of them. He led police on a chase through Mandeville that was caught on the dash cam of a police cruiser.
“Obviously we bring the full force of the sheriff's office to return these people back to custody because they've breached a contract. I would tell you that more than an escape, it's a breach of contract,” Strain said.
Legally, inmates who leave work release programs are charged with simple escape, just like those who break out of jail.
“It's not different than if he had a hacksaw and sawed the bars off his cell and climbed out a window. He's escaped,” said Metropolitan Crime Commission President Rafael Goyeneche.
When news of White’s latest escape broke, many in Northshore communities took to social media to ask whether or not citizens had the right to know when one of these escapees walked off the job.
Again, White escaped on Friday and the news media and the public didn't find out about it until Sunday.
“If someone were to escape from behind the walls of the St. Tammany Parish Jail, I think the public would be immediately notified and I don't think that there's any distinction or difference for someone in a work release program that walks off the job,” Goyeneche said.
He said he didn’t believe Strain or any other local sheriff was required to notify the public in the event of an escape, either from a regular correctional institution, or a work release program.
“We're in the business of public protection. We are in the business of arresting people. So, if we make the determination that we have to put out emergency alerts, then we will do that,” Strain said.
The Louisiana Department of Corrections didn’t respond to calls or emails from WWL-TV asking what escape rates are at work release facilities across the state. Bonnett said to request the statistics from the Department of Corrections.
The sheriff and Goyeneche both said work release programs work to help keep inmates from re-offending once they get released.
"It is not necessarily an indictment that the program is operating ineffectually or improperly,” Goyeneche said.
If you have information on the whereabouts of Martin White, call Crimestoppers at (504) 822-1111.