JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — Ten days after Edward Verdugo simply walked away from the FCI Englewood prison, insiders tell the Problem Solvers his escape was simply too easy.

“He had already been caught with something and was left essentially, you know, with the ability to walk away without, you know, being further locked up,” said James Simmerman, president of Local 709. That’s the union that represents correctional guards at the minimum security Federal Correctional Institution, Englewood, in unincorporated Jefferson County at South Kipling Street and Quincy Avenue.

Simmerman is referring to a FOX31 report earlier this week that Verdugo was found with drugs in his locker four days before he escaped but wasn’t moved to the prison’s Special Housing Unit for high-risk inmates.

The 49-year-old inmate was serving a 9-year sentence for heroin and gun crimes when he simply walked off the prison grounds on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 5.

Verdugo was housed in the prison camp for 80 of the lowest-risk inmates at the facility.

Most of the 960 inmates at the minimum security prison are kept behind a secure wire fence, but the 80 inmates kept at the camp have no perimeter fence to prevent them from simply walking away, as Verdugo did.

Simmerman told the Problem Solvers he doesn’t understand why Verdugo wasn’t moved to the prison’s Special Housing Unit once drugs were discovered in his locker on Friday, Sept. 1.

“In my mind, it is very, very concerning, for sure,” he said.

Understaffing an issue at FCI Englewood prison

Simmerman said chronic understaffing at the prison may have contributed to Verdugo’s escape.

“If you don’t have the bodies and the resources, it’s hard to kind of put the other pieces together to really tighten everything else up,” he said.

The Bureau of Prisons confirmed it has 132 correctional employees budgeted for the prison, but the union told FOX31 that only 98 of those positions are filled — or 74%.

“Morale is probably lower. … I’ve been here for almost 14 years at this facility and it’s probably about as low as I’ve seen it,” said Simmerman, adding that correctional guards often have to work 16-hour shifts whether they want to or not.

Plus, Simmerman said understaffing makes it easier for drugs to enter the jail. In the past year or so, he said two inmates have died from fentanyl overdoses.

Anonymous prison staffers tell FOX31 that approximately 15 inmates have been treated for drug overdoses in the past year.

“Bow and arrows shot over the fence with contraband. We’ve had tennis balls over the fence. We have drones flying and dropping stuff,” Simmerman said.

A prison guard’s salary starts at about $52,000 a year, according to Simmerman. The union has pushed for a 25% retention bonus that was submitted for approval on Dec. 7.

A Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman told FOX31 that the retention bonus is still waiting for approval from the Office of Personnel and Management.

“We do currently have a 10% retention (bonus) and since we were approved for that last June, our staffing has actually continued to decrease. … Wasn’t enough in the Denver area with the housing costs,” Simmerman said.

Wages an issue for federal prison guards

A former prison guard who spoke to the Problem Solvers on the condition of anonymity said, “The problem is the Bureau (of Prisons) doesn’t want to pay wages that are equivalent to what it costs to live in Colorado, and I think that’s the problem, is you’re not getting staff, and the staff you’re getting may not be the best qualified to work there.”

The former guard resigned from the FCI Englewood location about a year ago and not just because of pay, saying: “There’s a lack of accountability on management. There’s a lack of accountability on officers.”

He said the Verdugo escape proves his point. Even when the 49-year-old inmate was found with drugs, sources told the Problem Solvers he wasn’t placed in the Special Housing Unit, even though new drug charges might give him an obvious incentive to escape.

When Verdugo did walk away four days later is when guards did a deeper search of his room and found more drugs, according to prison sources.

“Again, I wish I could say I was more shocked, but I’ve seen it countless times where nobody wanted to take the step and follow the policies in place to keep the institution and the community safe,” said the former prison guard, who doubts anyone will face an internal affairs investigation for the security breakdown and said if they do, “It won’t go anywhere. It will be a slap on the wrist.”

Both the former guard and Simmerman, the union president, told FOX31 it made no sense to them that prison campers aren’t contained by a perimeter fence, regardless of how low risk they’re considered by the Bureau of Prisons.

“It makes no sense at all. Zero sense to me. And I think if anybody that lived in that neighborhood or drove on Kipling or Quincy right there, they’d be appalled and they should be,” the former prison guard said.

US Bureau of Prisons responds

In a lengthy email to the Problem Solvers, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons shared FCI Englewood is currently working with approximately 25 applicants to fill correctional officer positions.

In addition, Jennifer Owen, the executive assistant for FCI Englewood, said the prison is offering a 25% recruitment incentive for new hires “to be more competitive in the local market.”

Owen acknowledged, “Like all correctional agencies, the FBOP, including FCI Englewood, continues to tackle the problem of contraband being introduced into our facilities, including contraband cell phones and narcotics.”

As a result, the FPOP is testing Counter Unmanned Aerial Systems technologies to reduce the amount of drugs entering the facility, although Simmerman told the Problem Solvers no such testing has taken place at FCI Englewood.

Owen declined to say if any individuals may be facing an internal affairs investigation related to Verdugo’s escape but confirmed there are no plans to add a security/perimeter fence.

In an email, she shared: “Camps are minimum security, non-secure facilities. Incarcerated individuals designated to Camps are OUT or COMMUNITY custody, the lowest custody levels in the FBOP. Minimum security individuals are eligible for the least secure housing, work on outside details with minimal supervision and may participate in community-based programs and activities. Individuals designated to Camps pose minimal risk to the community, to include no sex offenses, public safety factors, terrorism offenses, serious violence, history of serious escape and institution misconduct.”

The U.S. Marshals Service told FOX31 it received a tip that Verdugo might have been sighted in Glendale, but as of Friday, Sept. 15, he remained on the run.