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North Country News

Inspector General Releases Scathing Report On Prison Escape

Cover of IG Report on Clinton Correctional

One year after two convicted murderers escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, the New York State Office of the Inspector General released a scathing report on how the prisoners made their escape from the maximum security facility. 
The no-holds barred report criticizes everything from prison management to state oversight.  The 150-page document details extensive interviews with captured escapee David Sweat, corrections staff, Joyce Mitchell, Gene Palmer and inmates that weave the tale of how Sweat and deceased escapee Richard Matt planned and executed their escape from Clinton Correctional.  

In a prepared statement, New York State Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott said she released the report on the anniversary of the escape in hopes of giving clarity and closure to the public.   “The extent of complacency and failure to adhere to the most basic security standards was egregious and inexcusable. DOCCS has cooperated with my office to implement critical reforms. I have identified a number of DOCCS employees who have committed criminal acts and violated DOCCS’ policies and procedures. DOCCS has taken, and will continue to pursue, steps to appropriately discipline employees implicated in my investigation.  May of these employees have resigned or have been terminated.  Additionally I will dedicate resources specifically to ensure the integrity of these reforms at Clinton as well as ensuring adherence to best practices across all prison facilities in the state.”

More than half of the report details the escape plan and Sweat, Matt, Mitchell and Palmer’s actions, including Mitchell openly ignoring supervisors and defying security as she flirted and pursued relationships with Matt and Sweat.

The report finds  “security and management failures at Clinton created and perpetuated a culture of complacency…”  Front gate officers failed to screen employees entering the facility, allowing Joyce Mitchell to bring contraband to Matt and Sweat.  Night counts were inadequate or not conducted.  Multiple cells were never searched or inadequately searched.  The report states “… a documented search of Matt’s cell on March 21, 2015 failed to detect the 18 ½-inch by 14 ½-inch hole in the rear wall of a cell that is only approximately 48 square feet.”  The investigation also found “If only one of more than 400 required checks was properly performed during the time Sweat was out of his cell, the escape would have been instantly foiled.”

The IG slammed a number of the Clinton staff for complicating the investigation by refusing to cooperate despite immunity from prosecution.  

The IG’s report finds the extent of failings at Clinton call into question the ability of DOCCS to oversee itself and prisons across the state, particularly with the allegations of prisoner abuse at Clinton and other prisons in the aftermath of the escape.  The Correctional Association of New York State is the only private organization in the state with unrestricted access to prisons.  It has been detailing abuse allegations at Clinton and other prisons and will release a report on Thursday.  Director of the Prison Visiting Project Jack Beck says the IG’s report reveals a corrections system failing on multiple levels with the same factors that led to the escape leading to systemic abuse of inmates.  "The violence is so rampant and the incidents of abuse are widespread.  There was a death at Clinton just three weeks ago, May 19th, following a confrontation with staff.  We have multiple reports that that happened yet the department is stonewalling.  There are deaths at Fishkill and Sullivan that were in April of 2015. It’s more than a year and yet there’s no report. And this report shows that there are vast problems and that the exact systems that led to this escape are the exact same problems that are resulting in abuse."

The New York State Correction Officers and Police Benevolent Association represents 18,000 correctional officers at 54 state prisons across New York. Its emailed statement in response to the report states in part:  “Lessons can be learned from this system-wide failure that shined a bright light on the need for a sustained investment in training, technology, and tools to keep up with the record high levels of violence in our prisons. We look forward to working with the Governor and state officials to better address the safety and security of these facilities…”

45th District Republican state Senator Betty Little had not yet read the full report but says fingers can be pointed in a number of areas. She notes that many steps have already been taken to correct the problems the report highlights.   “There have been a whole series of cutbacks and changes in the prison system that are pointed to in this report. The big issue here is that we correct them all.  Many of them have already been corrected so that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.  I mean it was a dangerous thing.  It had the North Country in fear.  And we’re just so fortunate that innocent people were not killed.  But it was also very expensive.  You know a lot of things could have been done in the prison system for that money rather than searching for escapees.”

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