Prison escape showed “systemic failures,” report says

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From Press & Sun Bulletin:

ALBANY – The prison escape a year ago at the Clinton Correctional Facility in northern New York that led to a three-week manhunt was the result of “chronic complacency and systemic failures,” a state report Monday found.

The long-awaited report from the Inspector General’s Office showed a remarkable plan by the two inmates to coax a female employee and a male prison guard into providing them tools for their escape. It also revealed an extraordinary lack of oversight at the maximum-security prison that led to the breakout on June 5, 2015.

“The June 5 escape from Clinton was planned and executed by two particularly cunning and resourceful inmates, abetted by the willful, criminal conduct of a civilian employee of the prison’s tailor shops and assisted by the reckless actions of a veteran correction officer,” the 150-page report found.

The escape has been considered a real-life version of The Shawshank Redemption, the 1994 classic in which an inmate escaped through prison pipes.

Richard Matt and David Sweat did just that, spending months cutting out holes in steel walls and pipes until they escaped in the middle of the night on an early Saturday morning.

Sweat was serving a life sentence without parole for killing Broome County Sheriff Deputy Kevin Tarsia on July 4, 2002.

Over three months, Sweat left his cell every night to work on the escape, the report said. Over those 85 nights, there should have been more than 400 inmate checks, and “any one of which, if conducted properly, would have detected Sweat’s absence and instantly foiled the escape plot,” the report said.

Gaps exposed

But this was no movie, Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott said, saying that the caper put lives at risk and exposed deep flaws in New York’s prison system run by the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

The search cost New York $23 million in overtime, as well as $573,000 on repairs. The Inspector General’s Office offered a number of recommendations to improve the prison system, which has 53,000 inmates at 54 prisons.

The recommendations include improved checks of the prisons; new cameras; better security systems; a new management structure and a new unit to oversee abuses in the system and conduct investigations.

“The extent of complacency and failure to adhere to the most basic security standards uncovered by my investigation was egregious and inexcusable,” she said in a statement. “These systemic deficiencies led to the escape of two convicted murderers, striking fear in communities and placing brave law enforcement personnel at risk, at a high cost to the state.”

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