New warden, security measures after New York prison escape
Includes stepped-up searches of inmates' cells, staffing changes to ensure bed checks are more effective and installation of security gates in the facility's tunnels
By Michael Virtanen
ALBANY, N.Y. — A range of new security measures is being put in place at a maximum-security prison to close gaps exploited by two inmates who escaped last month.
The state correction department said Wednesday that includes stepped-up searches of inmates' cells, staffing changes to ensure bed checks are more effective and installation of security gates in the facility's tunnels.
The department also announced that 30-year correction veteran Michael Kirkpatrick will be the new superintendent of the prison, the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora. He replaces Steven Racette, who was placed on paid leave Tuesday along with two of his deputies and nine other staff members, including guards, after an internal review of how convicted killers David Sweat and Richard Matt escaped June 6.
Racette was named superintendent on May 14, shortly after the retirement of his predecessor and just before a watchdog group released a report on violence and racial tension in the prison.
Matt was shot dead Friday after a three-week manhunt. Sweat was shot and captured on Sunday.
Authorities said they cut through their adjoining cell walls over months, climbed down catwalks to the tunnels, got hold of contractors' tools, broke through a brick wall, cut into and out of a steam pipe and cut a chain holding a manhole cover outside the prison to get away. The inmates stuffed clothing in their beds to make it look as though they were still there.
The new security measures also include temporarily closing the prison's honor block, where the inmatesescaped, and subjecting it to the same security restrictions as other blocks. All contractor tool boxes are now to be stored in secure areas inaccessible to inmates and inspected daily. A captain or higher rank is required on every overnight shift. Staff members in remote areas are required to check in every half-hour.
Bed checks will be at varying intervals, and each cell's structural integrity is to be inspected weekly, with a viewing of the catwalks behind.
Sweat told police that he and Matt conducted a practice run the night before their escape, Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said Tuesday. The inmate told police from his hospital bed that he masterminded the breakout and began working on it in January.
The escape by Sweat and Matt launched a massive 23-day manhunt amid the rugged northern New York terrain involving more than 1,100 law enforcement officers.
Matt, 49, was shot and killed by a border patrol officer in Malone, about 30 miles from the prison. Sweat, 35, was wounded by a state trooper not far away, near the Canadian border.
Wylie said Sweat claimed he used only a hacksaw blade — not power tools, as officials had reported — to cut holes in the steel walls of his and Matt's cells and in a steam pipe they crawled through.
Wylie said Sweat claimed to have done all the work himself, saying the older Matt wasn't in shape to do it. Sweat said he prowled the tunnels within the prison from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m., after lights-out and before the morning headcount, in the days preceding the escape with Matt, according to Wylie, who was briefed by state police on the surviving inmate's statements.
Authorities said the inmates reached the tunnels via an interior catwalk, narrow utility corridors between cellblocks providing access to the bowels of the prison. Authorities said the inmates were given access to the catwalk by a guard who has since been charged in connection with the breakout.
"He said he had been out in the catwalk area for a couple of weeks" before the breakout, Wylie said.
Wylie said the two convicts conducted a practice run the night before they escaped. He said the "dry run" took them through a tunnel connecting the prison to the streets of Dannemora, 20 miles from the Canadian border.
Officials said a tailor shop employee, Joyce Mitchell, got close to Sweat and Matt and supplied them with hacksaw blades and other tools. She agreed to be their getaway driver but backed out at the last moment, authorities said. She has pleaded not guilty.
A prison guard, Gene Palmer, told investigators he gave the convicts tools, art supplies and access to a catwalk electrical box in exchange for paintings by Matt. But he said he never knew of their escape plans.