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Intense emotions at Joyce Mitchell's sentencing

Clinton County Sheriff's Department
Former Clinton Correctional Facility worker Joyce Mitchell.

Joyce Mitchell got the maximum range of two and a third to seven years behind bars. There was both relief and anger in the Clinton County courtroom in Plattsburgh yesterday when Mitchell was formally sentenced.

Mitchell is the former Clinton Correctional Facility worker who admitted to helping two convicted killers escape this past summer. She told investigators that she smuggled hacksaw blades, a chisel, and other small tools into the prison. She allegedly hid some of the items in hamburger meat.

According to Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie, it’s up to the New York State Department of Corrections to decide exactly how long she’s behind bars.

“They will evaluate her case at parole hearings. Based on that interview they’ll make a determination whether they’re going to release her after two and a third or they’re going to maintain her for up to the seven years,” Wylie said.

Mitchell pleaded guilty to providing tools to Richard Matt and David Sweat, who broke out of the Dannemora prison in June. Matt and Sweat eluded more than 1,000 searchers who combed the little towns and wilderness areas around Dannemora for weeks. Matt was eventually killed by a border patrol agent, and Sweat was wounded and captured by a state trooper two days later.

In the Plattsburgh courtroom yesterday, the air was heavy. Mitchell appeared to be in tears the entire time. When Judge Kevin Ryan gave her a chance to speak, she apologized again and again — to her coworkers at the prison, to her family, to law enforcement officers and their families. She said she’ll live in regret for the rest of her life.

Mitchell also said she acted out of fear for her husband’s life. She thought Matt and Sweat would kill her husband if she didn’t go along with their plan. But Judge Ryan didn’t find think that explanation credible.

“You did terrible things,” the judge said.


Speaking with reporters outside, Wylie said he doesn’t think justice was served. He wanted Mitchell to get a much tougher sentence than the two to seven-year range.

“I’m not fully satisfied with the way it resolved itself. I would have like to have seen additional charges, enhanced charges because of her culpability. Her criminal culpability here. And our hands were tied by what the statutes allowed us to prosecute her with,” the district attorney said.

But some people felt sorry for Mitchell. Carol Allen from Plattsburgh was getting coffee right near the courthouse.

“I’ve made mistakes in my life. Nothing of that caliber of course. I hope her life isn’t ruined only because she’s a fellow human being,” she said.

Investigators are still trying to figure out exactly how the escape happened. So far, the only other person who was arrested in connection with the break out is former prison guard Gene Palmer. Wylie said he’s working on a plea deal with Palmer’s attorneys.

But Wylie and other officials seem to put most of the blame on Mitchell. In a statement released yesterday, New York State Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott, who is conducting her own probe of the prison break, said, “She is responsible for the weeks of fear the community endured.”

As Joyce Mitchell left the courtroom to go back to jail, she mouthed the words “I love you” to her husband.