Terrance Payne, left, and Timothy Gunn escaped early Tuesday morning from the correctional centre in Stephenville. ((RCMP) )

The escape of two violent criminals from a western Newfoundland jail has put a new spotlight on how well inmates are being managed in the justice system.

Terrance Payne, 27, and Timothy Gunn, 19, slipped under a fence at the West Coast Correctional Centre in Stephenville early Tuesday morning.

RCMP are searching for the two fugitives, while authorities are also investigating how Gunn and Payne — who has previous convictions for crimes that include assault and escape from custody — were even able to get near the prison fence around 1 a.m.

The incident is the fourth in little more than a year that has shown lapses in the criminal justice system.

In August 2009, Gregory Smith, despite being in shackles, busted out of the courthouse in Wabush, hijacked a car and led police on a high-speed chase before he was apprehended.

Last month, Manuel John Clark was mistakenly freed from custody after a mix-up with his paperwork at provincial court. Clark was allowed to go, even though he insisted to officials he was not yet eligible for release.

On Aug. 28, Andrew Parsons escaped from the RCMP lockup in Marystown when an employee brought a mattress into his cell.

RCMP have warned that Payne and Gunn, whose criminal record cannot be disclosed because the offences occurred when he was a youth, have violent pasts.

Payne, originally from Bishop's Falls, was described as five-foot-seven, weighing about 220 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes.

Gunn, originally from Peterview, was described as five-foot-one, weighing about 130 pounds with black hair and brown eyes.

'Always traumatic': critic

Liberal justice critic Kelvin Parsons said it is too early to tell if there are systemic flaws in the criminal justice system.

"The question again is what protocols were in place to observe them, how did they get to the fence, what exactly did they do, and we'll only know [the] facts when we find the investigation is completed," Parsons told CBC News.

"Then we'll know for sure if the proper procedures were in place, and if they were in place were they being followed."

Parsons is familiar with the anxiety caused by a prison break. When he was justice minister in 2000, sex offender Richard Ryan escaped from custody.

"It's always traumatic," Parsons said. "You always second-guess yourself [as] to whether you have enough personnel, whether you have the right protocol and procedures."