Thursday, October 1, 2015

Seven Years: To Little Time to Fit the Crime

Former DOCCS employee Joyce Mitchell weeps
before Judge Kevin K Ryan sentences her to prison
On monday Sept. 28th one chapter in the Great “Shawshank” Escape case was closed when Clinton County Judge Kevin K Ryan sentenced former
New York State corrections employee Joyce Mitchell to a prison term not to exceed seven years for her role in the escape of convicted murders Richard Matt and David Sweat from the maximum security prison in Dannemora, NY in June of this year.  That led to a three week manhunt for the fugitives by a task force of well over one thousand federal, state, and local law enforcement officers.  It ended when Matt was shot and killed by a member of a Department of Homeland Security SWAT team as he pointed a shotgun at the pursuing officers.  Two days later Sweat was shot and wounded by a courageous New York State Police Sergeant, Jay Cook, as he attempted to flee in a wooded area one mile from the Canadian border.
The plan to escape had begun six months before the actual breakout.   Mitchell’s participation  included smuggling  hacksaw blades and tools necessary for the plan to succeed,and also to provide a car for the getaway.  The conspiracy included plans to murder her husband.
Now she is remorseful and told NBC’s Matt Lauer, “I got in over my head” .  
However the investigation revealed that was not the only part of her body utilized in the plot. What started as an amorous relationship with both inmates proceeded to her regularly meeting the inmates in a broom closet in the prison’s Tailor Shop for sex.  
This “Shawshank” plot went on for months undetected even though allegations of this 
inappropriate relationship between the employee and the inmates was forwarded to Department officials in Albany and an investigation initiated by the Department’s Office of Special Investigations.  The investigation floundered when no action was taken by the Department’s Chief of Investigations to either remove the inmates from Honor Block or transfer them to other prisons.
According to Mitchell, she was going through a period of depression and didn’t think her husband loved her anymore.  She feared to tell  prison authorities what was going on because of threats made by both Matt and Sweat if she backed out of the plan.  Mitchell also now claims that inmate Matt forced her to perform the sex acts against her will.  
None of her tears or claims at the sentencing are to be believed according to her sworn statement to New York State Police investigators on June 8th, two days after Matt and Sweat flew the coop.  In her own words she was a willing participant stating she “agreed” to the plan,  which was: “After I picked them up, the plan was to drive to my home and inmate Matt was going to kill  the glitch (her husband Lyle Mitchell, also a prison employee at Clinton)  …Then after it quieted down, inmate Matt would go off by himself, and inmate Sweat and I would be together.
She now states the reason why she didn't show up with the get away car and instead checked into a local hospital with claims of a “panic” attack, was because she loved her husband Lyle.  Investigators eventually drove to the hospital to speak with her.
  By then the fugitives had crawled out the back of their cells, through a tunnel, and up to a manhole cover in the streets of Dannemora.
By the time authorities had discovered the inmates missing, Matt and Sweat were already some distance away in the thick wooded mountains of the Adirondacks.  The pursuit required specialized law enforcement teams and equipment to traverse the bogs, lakes, and brush both day and night for 22 days.
Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie was not fooled by Mitchell’s crocodile tears in the courtroom.  He told told the Court “She is once again making excuses…Each and every time she was interviewed the truth did not come out.”
In her interview before sentencing Joyce said she felt that the punishment she faced did not fit the crime she committed. The price she would be paying would be to high she said.
 In response to that Judge Ryan told her emphatically “…you have nothing to complain about”
Was the sentence to much?  Not when you consider the cost to taxpayers for the escape which has been estimated at almost twenty five million dollars .
That averages out to about $3.5 million a year for Ms. Mitchell’s incarceration, if she serves her entire sentence.  That is highly unlikely.  She will be eligible to go before the Parole Board in October 2017.  If she earns good time and has an exemplary prison record she may even be eligible for Merit or Presumptive Release much earlier than that. 
 After all she is a non-violent first time offender.   
Somehow in this case, the time doesn’t fit the crime.  More responsibility must be accounted for.  We are still awaiting the findings of Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott’s investigation into what caused the breakdown in security policy and procedures that allowed this escape to occur.  Policy that was put in place by department officials in Albany.
Hopefully others, much higher than Ms. Mitchell will be called to account for their misdeeds.  Until they are,  serious problems continue at the Clinton prison.  The sound of shots fired could be heard last month as facility security staff sought to quell a riot in the yard caused by ongoing fights among inmates over the drug trade and gang activity.  
These and other incidents continue to occur even though a new administration was put in place at the facility after the escape.  Perhaps this time a change in the leadership in Albany is required .