Former employees claim understaffing has been a problem at Three Springs for years

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MADISON, Ala. - The outcry continues from citizens in Madison for the removal of the Three Springs treatment facility.

The community has been on edge after two escaped teenagers from the facility on Browns Ferry Road were accused of killing 61-year-old Van Johnson.

A former supervisor at a different Sequel facility is now sharing his story, and says these type of problems aren't a new phenomenon.

Marcus Echols was a supervisor at Sequel's Three Springs facility in Courtland from 1994-95, and ultimately left the company because of concerns over how that treatment center was managed.

"That's why you have a high turnover rate at all the Three Springs. They can't keep nobody because when they get them, number one, they don't pay them right, number two, they work them over and over."

He claims the multiple escapes reported in Madison and headaches he ran into in Courtland stem from problems that have been on-going for years. "They've been going on since 1994 when I was there."

When Echols saw the news about two juveniles escaping from the facility and being charged with capital murder, his heart sank.

Not just because it happened, but because he partially expected it.

Echols said that for years the company cut corners when it came to staffing. "They want to do the work but they want to do it cheaply, and this is the kind of work you cannot do cheaply."

It appears that problem has only grown.

Tracey Jones worked at Three Springs in Madison as recently as last year and says the lack of staffing put her life in danger. "I can't tell you how many times that would happen, that I would be left alone on the unit."

Tracey says that's against company protocol, that there should always be two staff members in each section of the building. But that rule was rarely followed.

As a former supervisor, Echols insists that's not acceptable. "No one person should have to watch after 10 or more kids by themselves, that is very dangerous."

An online petition calling for the relocation of the Three Springs facility is now up to more than 600 signatures.

But Echols says moving the facility will only move the problem. "I don't care if you move it away from people, they're still going to escape. They're still not going to get the proper programming and treatment they need, because if you're understaffed you can't have a good program for those kids."

So unless Sequel can enact meaningful changes, Echols says he is afraid there will be more crime scenes and more sleepless nights off of Browns Ferry Road.

"If Three Springs and Sequel cannot pay their workers what they deserve to be paid, and they cannot do the client-worker ratio correct, than they need to close."

As it currently stands, there is nothing in Madison law that allows the city to shut down the Three Springs facility. However, the city attorney announced she will be introducing legislation next council meeting that makes that possible if they can prove the facility is a hazard to public safety.

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