Key to Inmates' Storied Escape: 'Lazy' Guards

Sweat managed to get out of cell 85 nights in a row
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 7, 2016 7:08 AM CDT
Key to Inmates' Storied Escape: 'Lazy' Guards
Joyce Mitchell listens to Judge Kevin Ryan during a restitution hearing at the Clinton County Government Center last fall.   (Gabe Dickens/Press-Republican via AP)

Guards at Clinton Correctional Facility were supposed to carry out overnight rounds, observing "skin and breathing or other movement," but "we got lazy," Officer Ronald Blair says in a 154-page report on the institutional flaws that enabled the brazen escape of David Sweat and Richard Matt from the upstate New York prison a year ago. He is one of the guards who admitted falsifying records to make it appear as if rounds had been carried out. He said guards would spend time reading books and doing crossword puzzles instead of performing their duties. Some highlights from the New York state inspector general's report, per the New York Times, CNN, and NBC:

  • Sweat spent 85 nights sneaking out of his cell to explore tunnels and cut an escape path with tools left behind by workmen or smuggled in by prison tailor shop employee Joyce Mitchell. "In the time Sweat was out of his cell over a three-month period, a total of more than 400 counts should have been conducted," the report states. "If only one of the counts was done properly, the escape plan would have been instantly stopped."

  • Mitchell, who was sentenced to up to seven years for helping the men escape, told investigators that she allowed Sweat to seduce her and she believed a "younger guy would actually like an older woman." She began to smuggle in food for the men—including pepper, which they planned to use to thwart search dogs—and later gave them tools including hacksaw blades.
  • The failures at the institution in Dannemora, NY, were "longstanding," the report states. "These included the failure by officers assigned to the front gate to search employees' bags entering the prison; night counts of inmates that were conducted negligently or not at all; inadequate cell searches; and poor supervision of inmates and employees by security staff and civilian managers in the tailor shop, among others."
  • Matt was shot dead after three weeks on the run. Sweat was recaptured two days later and is now serving six years in solitary confinement. He told investigators that as they made their way out of the prison, the Shawshank Redemption was on their minds.
  • The prisoners left notes for guards along with dummies in their beds. "You left me no choice but to grow old and die in here. I had to do something," wrote Matt in one note. Another, written on a painting he had made of Tony Soprano, said: “Time to go kid."
  • When the pair burst out of a manhole on the outside, their supplies included assorted clothes, a dozen sticks of pepperoni, 20 packs of peanuts, and 40 granola bars.
  • "A number of Clinton staff, including executive management, civilian employees, and uniformed officers," failed to cooperate with the report, claiming they were unaware of longstanding security lapses—or they had forgotten the names of colleagues "with whom they regularly worked."
  • Sweat told investigators that he hated Blair, the night shift officer, and he hoped he would be punished over the escape. The report states that Blair and another officer on duty the night of the escape were suspended and retired in March. Three prison executives were suspended, and "many" corrections employees found to have broken the law in one way or another have "resigned or have been terminated."
(More David Sweat stories.)

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