Escaped murderers took advantage of ‘systemic failures’

For three months, two convicted killers were able to work almost nightly on cutting out of their prison cells, unnoticed, while simultaneously manipulating staff around them, according to a report released Monday that slams the prison from which the men escaped last summer.

Richard Matt and David Sweat used prison workers at Clinton Correctional Facility and took advantage of an environment full of “systemic failures in management” in the months that led up to a prison break and manhunt that lasted three weeks in upstate New York, a New York Inspector General’s report said.

Matt and Sweat planned their escape for months. Sweat left his cell “nearly every night” in the three months that led up to the escape, the report said. He toiled away, cutting through brick, making his way into the tunnels before cutting into pipes that would lead him to a manhole in a neighborhood street, it said.

Security staff failed to properly conduct 15 weekly scheduled cell inspections, including a March search of Matt’s cell, which left an 18½ inch by 14½ inch hole in the rear wall of his cell unnoticed, according to the report.

“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 found. “If only one of the counts was done properly, the escape plan would have been instantly stopped.”

Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott released the report a year to the day after the prisoners were found to be missing. It found “systemic failures in management and oversight” by the New York State Department of Corrections allowed for the “meticulously orchestrate[d]” escape.

If basic protocols were followed, the escape could have been thwarted, avoiding the hunt that cost New York state approximately $23 million in law enforcement overtime, the report said.

Authorities tracked the two fugitives down in upstate New York, 45 miles from the jail.

Matt was killed after being shot by authorities. Sweat was apprehended alive and ?sentenced to six years in a cell where he is confined for 23 hours a day.

The inspector general demanded many changes to correct failures at the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

“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,” department spokesperson Thomas Mailey said.

“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.”

Sweat and Matt also manipulated prison workers into helping them, often trading artwork for supplies that could be used to cut their way out of their cells, the report said.

The men even had a romantic relationship — sometimes sexual — with Joyce Mitchell, a worker in the tailor shop where the prisoners also worked. She was able to smuggle items into the prison that the men asked for, like hacksaw blades, because the prison officers at the front gate failed to search her bag, the report found.

Mitchell pleaded guilty to charges of promoting prison contraband and criminal facilitation last June. She was sentenced to 2½ to seven years in prison and owes over $80,000 in restitution.

The men studied the schedules of correction officers, choosing to escape on a night on which one officer they particularly disliked was working, the report said.

Knowing that this officer failed to conduct regular checks at night, Sweat hoped the officer “would face disciplinary charges after the escape,” the report found.

The officer was suspended after the escape.

He told investigators that they “got lazy” on the night shift, sometimes spending their time on crossword puzzles rather than proper searches, according to the report.

The inspector general’s report also found “a number of Clinton staff, including executive management, civilian employees, and uniformed officers” that were not cooperative, claiming ignorance of “longstanding” security lapses or not recalling names of colleagues “with whom they regularly worked.”

“The inspector general finds these misstatements and purported lapses of memory reprehensible,” the report concluded.

The New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents prison employees, issued a statement after the report: “The Clinton escape was a disturbing incident that brings to light the broader inadequacies that affect the entire correctional system.

“Lessons can be learned from this systemwide 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,” the statement said.

In the escape’s aftermath, three executives and “numerous uniformed staff” from the prison were suspended?, according to the report.

Department of corrections employees have also been identified as committing criminal acts, the report said. “Many of these ?employees have resigned or have been terminated.”

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