Report: Complacency, security failures lead to Clinton Correctional Facility escape

A guard stands on the wall at Clinton Correctional Facility on Monday, June 8, 2015, in Dannemora, N.Y. Two murderers who escaped from the prison by cutting through steel walls and pipes remain on the loose Monday as authorities investigate how the inmates obtained the power tools used in the breakout. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – On the one year anniversary of the New York Prison Break, a new report highlights the security failures that led up to the June 2015 escape.

New York’s Inspector General said the chronic complacency and systematic failures of security procedures at Clinton Correctional Facility allowed Richard Matt and David Sweat to escape.

The escape took place on June 6, 2015. It led to a three week manhunt throughout New York’s northernmost counties. Matt was shot and killed by police on Friday, June 26. Sweat was shot and captured on Sunday, June 28.

As many as 1,300 law enforcement members were involved in the search for Matt and Sweat. The search is estimated to cost the state $22.8 million in law enforcement overtime.

According to the report, guards weren’t doing their jobs by rarely making inmates go through metal detectors and not conducting tunnel searches. The investigation also found that Matt and Sweat knew where they were digging because utility markings were found on prison walls that indicated specific distances to underground sewer, electrical and water lines.

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

Other findings include:

  • Night counts were grossly inadequate or, in many instances, almost certainly not conducted at all.  Over the course of approximately 85 nights that Sweat was working in the tunnels under the prison, more than 400 inmate bed checks should have occurred, any one of which, if conducted properly, would have detected Sweat’s absence and instantly foiled the escape plot.
  • Clinton’s program of unannounced cell searches, essential to controlling inmate contraband, was deeply flawed. In fact, a documented search of Matt’s cell on March 21, 2015 failed to detect the 18½-inch-by-14½-inch hole in the rear wall of his 48-square-foot cell.
  • Front gate officers failed to adequately screen employees entering and leaving the prison despite explicit policies requiring it.
  • Monitoring and inspection programs by Clinton management and State Department of Corrections and Community Services (DOCCS) central office failed to detect any of the security deficiencies that contributed to the escape.
  • Officers failed to properly conduct at least 15 required weekly inspections of “cell integrity” to include examination of “bars, floors, vents, walls, and rear of cell from the catwalks.” These inspections, if performed as required, would have revealed the breaches in the walls of Sweat’s and Matt’s cells.
  • Failure of the DOCCS internal affairs division, the Office of Special Investigations, to uncover an inappropriate relationship between [prison seamstress Joyce] Mitchell and Sweat despite documented allegations to that effect.

IG Leahy Scott said staff at Clinton Correctional were not cooperative.

“Many of these employees have resigned or have been terminated,” she said.

A DOCCS spokesperson issued the following statement in response to the report:

“Since last June, DOCCS has instituted a number of reforms to strengthen operations at Clinton Correctional Facility, including installing new cameras and security gates, retraining staff, disciplining responsible employees, appointing a new superintendent and replacing other senior administrative personnel. We are reviewing the Inspector General’s findings and will work with her office to implement her recommendations to improve operations at Clinton and throughout the entire system, and help ensure this incident is never repeated.”

IG Leahy Scott also has plans to create a team within her office to monitor security at all state prisons.

Read the 150-page report

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