• Wisconsin police said two inmates escaped from Columbia Correctional Institutition in Portage on Thursday and were suspected of heading toward Madison
  • The inmates were identified as Thomas Deering, 46, and James Newman, 37
  • Columbia Correctional Institutution has been on lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic and has six confirmed cases 

Wisconsin police said Thursday it was looking for two inmates who escaped from a maximum security Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, which has been battling a growing number of coronavirus infections among prison staff. Police said the inmates escaped before 5 a.m. and were believed headed to Madison.

“[All] officers and detectives are being provided the latest information on the suspects,” Madison Police spokesman Joel DeSpain told Madison NBC-affiliate WMTV. “Like other area law enforcement, we are on alert.”

Deering was convicted in Milwaukee County in 2000 on kidnapping, burglary and multiple sexual assault charges and sentenced to the Waupun Correctional Facility. He escaped that facility in 2002 and was recaptured in 2003 and sent to Columbia. He was subsequently convicted of battery stemming from a 2015 prison altercation.

Deering is described as 6-feet, weighing 200 pounds and is clean shaven.

Newman was originally charged in 2009 with multiple counts of discharging a firearm in Brown County. He was serving time at a supervised living facility in Jackson County when he escaped in July 2012. Helater was convicted of escape, theft and kidnapping, and was sent to Columbia. He is described as 5-foot-9, weighing 190 pounds and has a goatee.

Colombia Correctional Facility is on lockdown due to coronavirus concerns. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said four staff members and two prisoners had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Monday. Despite the positive tests, the prison has followed lockdown measures by keeping prisoners in their assigned cells and practicing social distancing guidelines laid out by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Police Scene
Representational image of a crime scene. Suzanne Cordiero/AFP/Getty Images