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12 prison employees placed on leave following escape: Systemic problem?

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Mike Groll/AP

(Read caption) A sign at Clinton Correctional Facility thanks the community as the search for two escaped prisoners from the facility continues, on June 24, in Dannemora, N.Y. Twelve prison workers, including the facility chief, have been placed on administrative leave, state officials told the Associated Press Tuesday.

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A dozen correctional officers and prison executives have been placed on leave from Clinton Correctional facility in New York following the escape of two convicted murderers.

Twelve prison employees, including nine security staff and the prison superintendent, have been placed on “administrative leave,” according to the Associated Press. Two of the suspended officials include Steven Racette, the superintendent, and Deputy Superintendent Stephen Browne, who oversees security. Assistant Commissioner James O’Gorman will oversee the facility temporarily.

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A criminal investigation into how the two killers escaped is being conducted along with a broader investigative probe into the prison itself, which New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) designated to state Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott soon after the escape.

For the investigation, the inspector general can subpoena witnesses, examine them under oath, and review state documents. The inspector general will also rely on outside experts in corrections and law enforcement and will recommend potential reforms, Governor Cuomo said.

Any criminal activity uncovered by the inspector general will be referred to prosecutors.

Two prison employees have been criminally charged in connection with the June 6 jailbreak. Richard Matt and David Sweat – both serving life in prison for murder – used power tools to cut holes in their cells and a steam pipe, which led to a manhole outside, according to prosecutors.

The escape was followed by a three-week manhunt in upstate New York. Mr. Matt was shot and killed by authorities on Friday, while Mr. Sweat was shot and captured near the Canadian border on Sunday.

Sweat is in custody at Albany Medical Center, where his condition was upgraded Tuesday from “serious” to “fair,” NBC News reported.

Sweat told authorities from his hospital bed that Joyce Mitchell, a civilian seamstress working in the prison, was the only prison employee involved in the breakout. Prosecutors have also said Ms. Mitchell grew close to the men and agreed to be their getaway driver, but backed out because she felt guilty.

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Mitchell pleaded not guilty on June 15 to charges including felony promoting prison contraband.

Gene Palmer, a corrections officer, has also been charged in connection with the escape. Mr. Palmer is said to have been the courier Mitchell used to deliver frozen ground meat – hiding hacksaw blades – to the two men. Palmer has told investigators he provided them with tools, paint, frozen meat and access to a catwalk electrical box, but he said he had no advance knowledge of the escape plot.

In a statement through her lawyer, Mitchell said on Tuesday she was “happy” the manhunt had ended, according to NBC.

“That is what she has been praying for and her prayers were answered,” said Stephen Johnston, Mitchell’s attorney.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.


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