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New details of David Sweat escape: Were prison guards asleep on the job?

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New York State Police/Reuters

(Read caption) David Sweat is pictured in this undated handout obtained June 6. The captured prison escapee was released on July 5 from a New York hospital where he had been treated for gunshot wounds and moved to a prison more than 250 miles from the one he fled, authorities said.

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As he wandered the tunnels beneath Clinton Correctional Facility every night while guards slept, recaptured escapee David Sweat said he already felt free.

What The New York Times called “a culture of complacency” among guards may have been the enabling factor in Mr. Sweat's – and his now-deceased partner in crime Richard Matt’s – escape. Details Sweat revealed to investigators indicate prison staff regularly slept on the job, allowing Sweat to slip away into the tunnels every night to carve himself and Mr. Matt a way out of the prison, the Times reported.

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A law enforcement officer told CNN in late June that investigators were looking into whether guards on the “honor block” where Sweat and Mr. Matt were housed would sleep during the night shift, leaving inmates unsupervised between the 11:30 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. head counts.

One dozen prison employees and executives were placed on administrative leave late last month, pending an investigation into potential shortcomings among prison staff that might have enabled the escape.

If it turns out officers were sleeping on the job, it would not be the first time a New York correctional facility has seen such a scandal, though it would be the most severe. In 2009, the New York Post published a photo depicting an officer sleeping in a chair with her keys hanging from her belt. Next to her, an inmate posed flashing a “peace” sign.

The photo, taken by another officer, came from Rikers Island, New York City’s main jail complex. The guard had been working at the facility for more than four years at the time of the incident, and was placed on “modified duty” once the photo came out, deputy commissioner Stephen Morello told the Post.

Then in April of this year, a video was released of a sleeping guard at Mifflin County Correctional Center in Lewistown, Pa. The woman who took the video was visiting her husband at the prison, and said she often saw the guard sleeping while he was supposed to be working, CBS 21 News reported.

The Mifflin County Commissioner Kevin Kodish said the officer was responsible for coordinating and overseeing family visits, and that while there was no history of similar problems at the prison, the incident was being investigated.

"Obviously it's a serious concern for us,” Mr. Kodish told CBS at the time. “You never want to have an employee sleeping on the job."

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Sweat is now being held in solitary confinement at Five Points Correctional Facility in Romulus, N.Y.