Series of Oversights at Clinton Correctional Facility Made Escape of 2 Murderers Possible

The Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., had seen lapses in routine security in recent years. (Credit: Jacob Hannah for The New York Times)
The Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., had seen lapses in routine security in recent years. (Credit: Jacob Hannah for The New York Times)

By the time David Sweat and Richard W. Matt engineered their extraordinary escape from the maximum-security prison here, corrections officers were rarely shining lights over the faces of inmates during hourly bed checks, making it hard to know if a living, breathing person was inside a cell.

The catwalks and underground tunnels that made their getaway possible were no longer being inspected regularly.

And no one was inside two of the 35-foot-high guard towers when the two convicted killers climbed out of a manhole outside the prison walls and fled into the night.

No single lapse or mistake in security enabled the two men to break out of the Clinton Correctional Facility here, long considered one of the most secure prisons in the nation. But it is now clear that an array of oversights, years in the making, set the stage for the prison break a little over two weeks ago and for the ensuing manhunt, which this weekend zeroed in on a possible sighting of the men in the town of Friendship, N.Y., more than 350 miles southeast of here.

At Clinton, a sense of complacency had taken hold, current and retired corrections officers said, that in some ways might have been understandable. There had not been an escape from the 170-year-old prison in decades, and officials say no one had ever broken out of the maximum-security section.

“As the months go by, years go by, things get less strict,” said Keith Provost, a retired corrections officer who had worked for over 15 years at the prison.

Modest reductions in personnel were compounded by aggressive efforts through the years to cut as much overtime as possible, meaning that some security posts were no longer staffed.

Linda Foglia, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, said in a statement that three agencies — the New York inspector general’s office, the Clinton County district attorney’s office and the State Police — were conducting “top-to-bottom” independent investigations of security practices at the prison.

“The various investigations will determine what, if any, lapses occurred, and at that point, all appropriate action will be taken and corrective reforms will be instituted,” Ms. Foglia said in the statement.

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The New York Times

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