Tuesday, July 7, 2015

New York Prison Officials Shift the Blame, Avoid Responsibility

Governor Cuomo, Commissioner Annucci (left) and Superintendent Racette  tour Clinton  State Prison
following the escape of two murderers

Now that New York’s great escape is over, Albany’s engaged in an epic bout of passing the buck.

One week after the capture of prison escapee David Sweat by the heroic effort (and crack shot) of New York State Police Sgt. Jay Cook, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision announced sweeping changes in the security procedures at Clinton Correctional Facility from which inmates Sweat and Richard Matt escaped on June 6.
Now we’re told by Albany officials that they’re instituting new polices such as more random cell searches, the closing of the Honor Block — from which Matt and Sweat escaped, and in which the two never should have been placed from the beginning — increased supervision of staff and more frequent inspections of tunnels and electrical panels.
Plus, they’ve suspended the majority of the facility’s executive team, as well as nine officers, including a lieutenant and a sergeant who were in charge of the facility during the midnight security tour of the prison on the night of the escape.

Matt and Sweat were housed in the Honor Block, in which prisoners are rewarded for good behavior with more freedom of movement, for an extended period of time.
Both were able to break out of the back of their cells and sneak through a series of catwalks and tunnels before surfacing on the streets of Dannemora undetected by the officer on duty in the guard tower overlooking the prison yard.
The escape plot had been in the works for months uninhibited by security staff.
Crucially, prison officials made no mention of how Matt and Sweat came to be in that block or how they both managed to remain in this particular prison facility after the Office of Special Investigations discovered an inappropriate relationship each prisoner had with civilian employee Joyce Mitchell. It was that office that had the authority to transfer one or both of the inmates prior to the escape.
Here’s the key: Allowing them to remain there was not the facility superintendent’s decision.
That decision was made in Albany.
In instituting the new security procedures, the Department of Corrections is attempting to deflect the blame onto the facility administrators when, in fact, the procedures that were in effect when Matt and Sweat escaped were written by the deputy commissioner for facility operations in Albany.

Facility superintendents don’t issue policy; they implement directives issued by headquarters.
Security policy and procedures for the state’s correctional facilities are set by Albany and codified in the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Rules and Regulations.
They cover everything from health care to safety. Security falls under the authority of the deputy commissioner of facility operations.
We’re not told by the Department of Corrections whether the new security procedures will be instituted in the department’s 16 other maximum-security prisons, or just at Clinton. (One of the other such prisons is Five Point Correctional Facility in Romulus, NY, where Sweat was transferred early Sunday morning after his discharge from the Albany Medical Center.)
One would hope that the new measures extend to all the facilities. Otherwise, we’ll probably have to go through another incident like this which has cost the taxpayers of New York millions, put people needlessly at risk and left the entire Department of Corrections with egg on its face.
It may be that certain facility staff were lackadaisical in the performance of their duties and as such should face disciplinary charges.
But if they’re the only ones held accountable, then state officials were successful in shifting the blame to lesser shoulders.
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