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Report Finds Multiple Failings Led To 2015 Prison Break

New York State Police via AP

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s inspector general has found that numerous security and oversight problems at the state prison in Dannemora contributed to the prison break of two inmates last year.

Inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility near Plattsburgh on June 6, 2015, leading to a massive three-week-long manhunt in which Matt was killed in an encounter with state police, and Sweat was shot and wounded, and retaken into custody.

Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott’s report said the belongings of staff were supposed to be routinely searched but were not, allowing prison employee Joyce Mitchell to smuggle in some of the tools the inmates used in their escape. Mitchell herself was not adequately supervised, leading to her “grossly inappropriate relationships” with the inmates, the report said.

Guards also failed to regularly count inmates in their beds during the night, contributing to the hours-long delay before the inmates’ absence was discovered. The report said simply doing a nightly bed count would have foiled the escape plot. Instead, the report said, the corrections officers falsified reports saying that they had done the counts.

Cell searches were infrequent and too cursory and hasty, the report found. Prison officials also almost never inspected the prison’s tunnels or catwalks, routes the inmates used to get away.

Leahy Scott also calls into question the agency’s ability to oversee itself, saying its own internal investigations unit was compromised because too many of the inspectors are former prison guards who are reluctant to speak ill of former colleagues and supervisors.

The inspector general said she believes several employees “committed criminal acts,” and she’s referred the cases to prosecutors.

Spokesperson Thomas Mailey said that since the breakout the agency has “instituted a number of reforms to strengthen operations,” including installing new cameras and security gates, retraining staff and disciplining responsible employees.

Mailey points out that the prison’s superintendent has been replaced, as well as “other senior administrative personnel.”

He says the agency will continue to work with the inspector general to “implement her recommendations to improve operations” at the prison and throughout the state’s entire prison system to “help ensure this incident is never repeated.”

Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Governor Cuomo, also issued a statement: “We thank the inspector general, her staff and Mr. Jacobson for their thorough and comprehensive review of this matter. Safety is paramount, and we will work to ensure that DOCCS [Department of Corrections and Community Supervision] implements these recommendations expeditiously to increase the security of our correctional system.”

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.