Costly Escape In Covington County

ANDALUSIA, AL (WSFA) - Covington County Sheriff Dennis Meeks has a confession to make.

"I hate that we lost it," said Meeks.

The sheriff is thoroughly embarrassed that an inmate escaped from his jail, an escape that apparently cost the sheriff's office and the county government far more than they could ever imagine.. nearly a million dollars over 3 years.

The story begins with inmate T.C. Harris. Harris somehow found freedom through a weak link in the exercise yard fence.

"We checked the video and he didn't have any help. He was able to do it himself," said Sheriff Meeks.

The U.S. Marshal's office awarded Covington County a contract back in July, a contract to house federal prisoners in the county jail, a deal worth more than $300,000 a year. Harris was one of 20. He was captured 9 hours after his escape on New Year's Day but this week U.S. Marshals not only picked up their prisoners but terminated the contract. Sheriff Meeks says they never said 'why.'

"We assume it was because of the escape," Meeks said.

With that kind of money, the sheriff had grand plans for his 55 employees; a payraise, but not anymore.

"We felt like we were doing a good job. We transported prisoners whenever the feds wanted us to," Meeks said.

The deal with the U.S. Marshals called for the sheriff's office to split the revenues with the county government. Today, both sides admit they have no idea how they'll make it up.

"We'll just have to sit back reevaluate everything," said Meeks.

Three goodbyes this week for the Covington County Sheriff's Office; the lucrative contract, 20 federal prisoners and better pay.

While the termination of the contract will get rid of two jobs, two more people will be reprimanded but not fired, according to the sheriff.

Sheriff Meeks says this was the first time the county jail held federal inmates.