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Politics and Government

Report calls security lapses at Dannemora prison 'inexcusable'

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo toured Clinton Correction Facility in June 2015 shortly after Richard Matt and David Sweat escaped.

New York’s inspector general released a scathing report late Monday, blasting the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. The report found widespread security lapses and breakdowns in oversight that led to last summer’s escape from Clinton Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in Dannemora, New York, located near the Canadian border.

Last summer at this time, there were tense checkpoints on back roads and highways across northern New York.

A small army of local, state and Federal officers were hunting for Richard Matt and David Sweat, two convicted killers who had dug their way out of Clinton-Dannemora prison.

It became clear in the days after their escape that something had gone seriously wrong inside one of America’s toughest prisons.

But in her report, New York Inspector General Katherine Leahy Scott described widespread incompetence and mismanagement and what she portrayed as a complete breakdown in oversight.

"The extent of complacency and failure to adhere to the most basic security standards, uncovered by my investigation, was egregious and inexcusable," said Leahy Scott.

The report describes a maximum security facility where basic security had unraveled. Metal detectors weren’t used regularly. Bags weren’t checked at gates. Corrections officers allegedly neglected basic duties and discipline and even described themselves as “lazy.”

One guard, identified by name in the report, spent his work days reading rather than inspecting prison cells.

Already, at least a dozen guards and administrators have been placed on leave or have resigned. One veteran corrections officer and a civilian worker are behind bars for aiding the escape. Leahy Scott says her probe uncovered even more criminal activity.

"I have identified a number of DOCCS employees who have committed criminal acts and violated DOCCS policies and procedures," said Leahy Scott.

Those cases have been referred to Clinton County’s district attorney for possible prosecution.

In addition to portraying guards at Clinton-Dannemora prison as almost comically inept, this report points out that many of them refused to cooperate with the investigation.

Leahy Scott also raised troubling questions about whether the state prison system, headquartered in Albany, is capable of providing oversight and proper management of its own facilities – questions that point directly at the leadership of acting Corrections Commissioner Anthony Annucci and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Speaking last July right after the manhunt ended, Cuomo said that for the time he was keeping Annucci in his post.

"I haven't said anything to him. Let's get the investigation done, let's see what they say," the governor said at the time.

But others have suggested for months that a shake-up in management and oversight of New York’s prisons is long overdue. Manhattan Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell chairs the corrections committee. He held a hearing on the Dannemora escape last December.

"Aside from the millions of dollars of cost to the state of New York, it also led to the terrorizing of the community where that prison was located by the people who live there in fear. And let me be very clear, that is simply unacceptable," said O’Donnell.

At the time, O’Donnell asked whether a new kind of outside oversight or ombudsman is needed to monitor how New York’s prisons are run.

"Is the oversight model we have efficient and effective or are there other potential models that might exist?"

This new IG report suggests that new oversight is needed. Leahy Scott points in particular to allegations that some inmates at Clinton-Dannemora prison were beaten and threatened with torture by corrections officers following the escape.

In the end, Richard Matt was shot and killed. David Sweat was shot and recaptured and is now serving time in solitary confinement. The aftershocks of their escape continue in New York’s prisons.