An Action News Jax investigation reveals that all local jails lack iris-scanning technology that could be used to positively identify inmates, both when they go through jail intake and when they’re discharged. While the mistaken release of inmates is rare, it has happened locally.
Most recently, it happened at the Clay County Jail in Green Cove Springs. In January 2017, Jessica Arnott was allowed to leave, instead of Jessica Davis. Davis was arrested after a domestic incident. Jessica Arnott was supposed be in jail much longer on a charge of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. Deputies said she attacked a man with a machete.
Clay County deputies said Arnott forged Davis' signature on release paperwork and walked out with Davis' belongings and wearing her clothes. Action News Jax spoke with Davis after the incident. She told us, “She had on my jeans, boots, even down to my bra.”
Davis’ mother was waiting outside the jail to pick up her daughter that day. When Davis didn’t come outside, her mother noticed Arnott wearing her daughter's clothes. She alerted deputies, who took Arnott back to jail.
Similar incidents happen around the country, including last month in Albuquerque, New Mexico. An inmate copied his cellmate's appearance and used his personal information to get out of jail. After that happened, jail officials changed policies and brought in iris scanner machines. Candace Hopkins, with the Albuquerque Metro Detention Center, said, “Their irises are scanned and, as they're leaving, their irises would be re-scanned to ensure it's the same person."
Action News Jax contacted all nine local Florida counties and found none of them use iris scanner or facial recognition technology. Instead, all nine county jails use digital fingerprint scanners. The same is true for all state prisons in Florida.
We also obtained a 29-page internal affairs investigative summation. It shows that seven jail employees made mistakes that led to Arnott’s release. Following the mistaken release, the Clay County Jail updated policy and implemented fingerprint scanners. Those are very effective at identifying inmates quickly and aren’t nearly as expensive as iris scanners.
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