Andrew Bates, doing 12 years for burglary at Fairfax Correctional Unit 30 and classified as likely to escape, was ordered by a guard recently to carry a ladder out the front door of the dormitory-like facility.

Bates walked into the warm June night, threw the ladder down and, seeing freedom before him, took off.

"I just kept running," Bates, 21, said from his isolation cell last week after his capture.

"You want to leave here," he said, "it's easy."

Bates was the third inmate in five days to escape from the supervision of the 160-inmate camp, leaving some Fairfax County officials and residents angry and afraid and focusing attention on some unsettling facts about the facility.

*The mostly unfenced prison, which most inmates leave each day to work in the community, has had eight escapes in the past year and 74 escapes during the past 10 years.

And while total escapes from Virginia prisons have declined to their lowest point in a decade -- from 108 to 54 last year -- Camp 30 escapes have remained steady, according to a report released last week by the state corrections department.

Of the 25 other field units like Camp 30 in the state, none has a higher rate of escapes during the past 10 years, including two larger facilities, according to corrections officials.

*Prisoners housed at the facility are not always the nonviolent, minimum- and medium-security inmates with little time to serve that local officials and residents have been led to believe. As of April 1, the prison's population included at least one convicted murderer, several rapists and some armed robbers, according to Virginia Department of Corrections statistics.

*When escapes do occur, procedures such as sounding alarms and notifying local law enforcement officials often are not carried out, according to county officials.

"It's a sieve," Fairfax County Board Chairman John F. Herrity said of the prison on West Ox Road in the western section of the county. Herrity said he intends to ask Gov. Charles S. Robb for an investigation of the facility's management. "Either they don't give a damn or they are totally incompetent," he said. As for the county residents who live near Camp 30, "I think what upsets people most is not knowing when there's an escape," said George Price, 25, who lives just east of the prison.

Officials from Camp 30 and the Virginia Department of Corrections said that while the facility has had its share of problems, it presents no real threat to the community.

"Camp 30 is as secure as a field unit can be," said Edward Murray, deputy director of corrections for the adult division and former director of corrections for the area, including Camp 30. "We do a pretty good job of screening these people, because if we didn't, the escape rates would be one heck of a lot higher than they are," he said.

"I understand the concern of people in the community. I would be concerned, too, but they've got to know we don't just arbitrarily dump people there. We would not put people there who would be any threat to them."

Herrity and Fairfax prosecutor Robert F. Horan Jr. disagree. Both said they suspect that at least some of those held at the dormitory-style facility built in 1954 belong at much more secure prisons.

State corrections officials have consistently maintained that most inmates at Camp 30 and similar facilities are those convicted of property and other nonviolent offenses, and all are expected to be released within 18 months of detention.

But corrections department information shows that the 47 prisoners convicted in Fairfax Circuit Court and held at Camp 30 as of April 1 included one serving a 25-year sentence for first-degree murder; two convicted rapists; one man convicted of aggravated sexual battery, serving a sentence of 18 years; 13 convicted of robbery, most of them for armed robbery and four with sentences of 20 years or more, and 16 convicted of burglary or grand larceny.

Horan said the man convicted of murder, James Swinson, "ought to be in a maximum-security institution. He committed a bad crime, and guys like him are always an escape risk."

He said that without looking at each case, he could not say which of the other 47 individuals belong in other facilities, but he said that no one with a sentence of 20 years or more should be in Camp 30.

"I don't think any first-degree murderers should be there . . . or any armed robbers either."

Dave Smith, Camp 30's superintendent, said that mix "sounds pretty typical of the people in all your field units," but he said that just looking at crimes and sentences can be misleading.

"Those kinds of people are there," Smith said, "but you look not only at the crime, you look at their institutional adjustment, their family history, their psychological history, their prior institutional violence . . . .

"If the public wants those people locked up in nonfield-camp institutions , they are going to have to build new maximum-security prisons."

"The character of the inmate has been changing," Smith said.

"You're finding more and more of your hard-core type inmates at the field units. People who used to come here . . . don't even go to prison."

Located on a hill overlooking the Super 29 Drive-In and the Bethlehem Baptist Church, Camp 30 looks more like an old junior high school than a prison, with five large, undivided dormitory-style rooms, sealed off with floor-to-ceiling powder blue bars.

The Rev. B.W. Sanders, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, said he has heard no expressions of concern from his his congregation about the camp across the street.

But, he said, the name -- Camp 30 -- is deceiving.

"It's not just people who are there for 30 days."

Early each morning, most of its 160 prisoners, more than 90 percent of them from the Washington area, leave the facility to work in the community.

Some go to work-release construction jobs, where they are treated like other workers.

Some are taken in highway department vehicles to do maintenance on the area's interstate roads under the unarmed supervision of a highway department employe.

A final group leaves to do road work on "gun gangs," groups guarded by a single corrections officer with a shotgun.

After work, inmates are free to wander around the rooms, and during the day they have access to personal belongings and prison equipment including pool cues, weights, nail clippers, radios, headphones, mops, brooms, electrical cords, large fans, extension cords and kitchen utensils.

At night, the 100 minimum-security and 60 medium-security inmates are guarded by three corrections officers.

Despite the relative freedom of prisoners within the facility, it has historically been relatively free of internal violence, with most of the escapes occurring from the work gangs.

And corrections officials say a certain number of escapes are inevitable from a prison in a relatively urban setting that sends most of its prisoners into the community each day.

As the area around the prison, just south of the booming Fairfax Center region, becomes more densely developed, its residential and business neighbors are becoming concerned.

"The fact that they have had several prison breaks worries people, said Charles Thomas Jr., a member of the Dix-Cen-Gato Civic Association, which includes some of the prison's closest residential neighbors. "I think they are concerned most that they are not notified via siren and via calls" when there are escapes.

After a February escape, which police and neighbors did not learn of for hours, county officials and the prison's neighbors demanded a meeting with corrections officials to set down in writing a formal notification procedure.

In a draft agreement, prison officials were asked to sound three blasts on a siren when a prisoner escapes, immediately notify county and city police, and immediately alert local community leaders, who would in turn notify residents.

The agreement has been sent to state officials in Richmond, but it remains unapproved, although Camp 30 officials said they had "no problem" with following its provisions.

But Fairfax officials said the prison's real attitude was demonstrated three months after that meeting, during the Bates escape.

The warning siren was not sounded. It couldn't have been, because it was disconnected while renovations were going on in one of the offices. Community members were not called until hours after the escape.

A memo from Fairfax County Police Chief John E. Granfield said his department's effort to capture Bates was hampered by lack of information and cooperation from prison officials.

"It is a Virginia facility, and Virginia should cooperate," said county Supervisor Elaine McConnell, whose Springfield district includes Camp 30. "When our own state doesn't cooperate . . . . "

"We can prevent a lot of those things with good management, good security, and that's the task," said Edward Morris, who on July 1 became Northern Virginia regional administrator for the department of corrections.

"We've brought people in to do it."

"I was brought in to straighten this place out," said Dave Smith, who became superintendent of the facility two months ago.

He said he has requested more guards and more sophisticated security devices from the state and would welcome the type of investigation for which Herrity has called.

He called the Bates escape "gross negligence," and he says he fired the guard who let Bates out the front door.

"I agree we should notify [the neighbors]," he said. "We let them down. All I can do is reassure them again."

Fairfax officials and area residents say they've heard it all before.

Herrity, a constant critic of the District's Lorton prison, also located in the county, said the Bates escape called to mind "the Keystone Kops."

The general attitude of state officials, he said, "reminds me of the old days at Lorton. Lorton is even a better operation [than Camp 30] these days, apparently."