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Responding to an inmate escape

There are some key steps correctional officers can take to prepare for a safe and effective response to a prison escape


Law enforcement officers walk along a road while searching for two prison escapees from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, on Tuesday, June 23, 2015, in Owls Head, N.Y.

AP Photo/Mike Groll

Searching for an escaped felon in either the wilderness or the city presents many challenges and dangers. Regardless of where your correctional facility is located, planning your response ahead of time is key to a safe operation.

Your agency should have an emergency preparedness plan and procedure policy in place. Read it and know it well. However, there are some things individual correctional officers can do to prepare to respond to a prison escape. As a CO, you could be pulled from the dorms to aid with the recapture of an escaped inmate at any time, not only for your prison but also for other institutions.

Here are seven equipment considerations to help you effectively respond to an inmate escape:

1. Emergency preparedness bag

Most of what you will need will already be assigned by your facility or issued at the time of the inmate escape, but there are some additional items you may want to have in your emergency preparedness bag or backpack. First make sure you have a heavy-duty, water-resistant backpack that distributes weight evenly on your shoulders.

2. Food and hydration

Many times, officers are dropped off at strategic locations and left for hours with infrequent food delivery. Make sure to carry nourishing food such as nuts, trail mix, protein bars and peanut butter. Remember this is a search for an escapee and noise and light discipline is mandatory. You will not be lighting any fires to warm up food. Also don’t light a cigarette, as it will give you away and make you an easy target for the escapee. Don’t forget water or fluids to keep you hydrated. This is very important when you are awake for many hours.

3. Clothing

Pack accordingly for the climate of your response area. Basic items to consider include:

  • Extra socks (a must!).
  • Extra boots if you have room.
  • Duct tape to tape around your boots and pants to keep ticks out in the summer and keep heat in during the winter (many other uses as well).
  • Searches do not stop during the night when mosquitos and other insects can rampant so be sure to carry insect repellant.
  • Extra pants, shirts (long sleeves) and underwear as one or two days can turn into weeks.
  • Rain gear.
  • Cold weather gear.
  • Gloves suitable for weather conditions.
  • Medical gloves in case someone is injured, or you are the one who captures the escapee.
  • Headgear as prescribed by your agency or suitable for weather conditions.

4. Medical equipment

Pack these in your emergency bag:

  • First aid kit.
  • Pain relief products such as ibuprofen.
  • Any prescription medications. Inform your supervisor you have them and what they are for. Also, inform your partner or squad in case something happens to you. EMS will need to know what prescriptions you are taking.

With all the dangers we face in corrections, I believe agencies should issue everyone a dog tag with blood type and medication allergy information.

5. Navigation equipment

Many areas still have no cell phone towers or GPS connections so you may need to revert to “old” navigation methods. Familiarize yourself with maps and compass. Have the following items:

  • Cellphone (fully charged).
  • Radio (assigned by agency).
  • GPS equipment.
  • Maps.
  • Navigational land charts (a must-have for first timers lost in the woods).
  • Compass (learn how to shoot an azimuth for survival).
  • Pencils, plastic pencil sharpener and paper.
  • Battery-operated AM/FM radio for weather updates.
  • Weatherproof arm watch or pocket watch.
  • Survival rope.
  • Flashlight and batteries (remember light and noise discipline).

6. Weapons

Weapons should be assigned by your agency unless you have pre-approval from your agency or state statutes. Remember any contact with the escapee and/or shooting will be investigated. You want all your lethal and non-lethal weapons on record with your agency and the state. Here are some lifesaving lethal and non-lethal weapons to carry:

An interview with U.S. Border Patrol agent Chris Voss who caught up with escaped New York inmate Richard Matt shows the dangers of responding to an inmate escape. Matt pointed a 20-gauge shotgun at the agent. Voss shot the convicted murderer with his M4 using .223 caliber rounds until he was no longer a threat.

7. Restraints

Never leave home without the restraints your agency tells you to carry. Here are some mandatory restraints and other items to consider:

  • Handcuffs.
  • Flex cuffs.
  • Leg irons.
  • Black box.
  • Body restraint straps.
  • Bola Wrap.

This may seem like an enormous number of items to carry. If these items are packed properly and you have a good backpack that distributes weight on your shoulders equally it is not as much weight as you think. Not every item on my list is mandatory.

In addition to equipment, there are some other considerations that can help you save your life in a tactical or dangerous situation:

  • Exercise at least three times a week.
  • Stay proficient with firearms.
  • Take some type of self-defense training.
  • Eat healthy.
  • Learn the old methods of land navigation in case of emergency.
  • Watch your fellow officers back, as he or she is depending on you.

Finally, keep your head on a swivel, stay strong and stay safe.

Gary York, author of “Corruption Behind Bars” and “Inside The Inner Circle,” served in the United States Army from 1978 to 1987 and was honorably discharged at the rank of Staff Sergeant from the Military Police Corps. U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Gary York completed the 7th Army Non-Commissioned Officers Leadership Academy with a 96.6% in the Train to Train method of instruction. Gary received the Army Commendation Medal and Soldier of the Quarter Award while serving. Gary was a Military Police shift supervisor for five years.

Gary then began a career with the Department of Corrections as a correctional officer. Gary was promoted to probation officer, senior probation officer and senior prison inspector where for the next 12 years he conducted criminal, civil and administrative investigations in many state prisons. Gary was also assigned to the Inspector General Drug Interdiction Team conducting searches of staff and visitors entering the prisons for contraband during weekend prison visitation. Gary also received the Correctional Probation Officer Leadership Award for the Region V, Tampa, Florida, Correctional Probation and he won the Outstanding Merit Award for leadership in the Region V Correctional Officer awards Tampa, Florida.