The escapes and ultimate death and capture of inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat, respectively, were supposed to have prompted a clean-up in the Clinton Correctional Facility. There were suspensions, leaves, and retirements aplenty as myriad failures in prison protocol were revealed. The FBI also launched an investigation into the facility’s operations over accusations of drug smuggling and corruption. Despite federal and state agencies supposedly putting the spotlight on the institution, new abuses of power by prison employees are surfacing.

Disturbing revelations are coming from inmates who were also housed in the same block as Matt and Sweat, that they suffered serious beatings at the hands of guards seeking retribution for and/or information regarding of the escape. The New York Times has revealed that in the weeks after the escape as many as 60 inmates may have been abused and tortured at the hands of prison officials.

These were not the acts of a few random disgruntled guards upset with the extra scrutiny the events brought to the behaviors within the prison’s walls; the paper trail goes higher up. As the Times revealed, the State Department also got in on the act of penalizing honor block inmates for no apparent reason other than to mask their own institutional and political incompetence:

“Dozens of inmates, many of whom had won the right to live on the honor block for good behavior, were transferred out of Clinton to other prisons. Many were placed in solitary confinement, and stripped of privileges they had accrued over the years—even though no prisoners have yet been linked to Mr. Matt’s and Mr. Sweat’s actions.”

The “honor block” refers to those sections of New York State’s that house inmates with records for good behaviours—they receive privileges above those of other inmates. In the wake of the escape, some have suggested eliminating them altogether. But focusing on the existence of/inmates in honor blocks is a band-aid solution that fails to recognize the systemic failures of the prison system. While the sensationalist “Shawshank” elements are most captivating to the public, more it’s the more mundane plot points that were the most contributive factors to allowing the men to escape—namely, laziness and a staunch disinterest in maintaining prison standards.

Unsurprisingly the misplaced focus on other inmates in the block that initially came with news of the escape—supported by Gov. Cuomo—served not only to distract from internal problems that led to the escape and but also to perpetuate the abuses of power that followed. It ignores the fact that this particular facility had had a serious uptake in violence in recent years and that its reputation amongst prisoners is less than stellar. I

It seems almost farcical that brownies, sex, and inmate-painted artwork were used as leverage to gain more privileges and the material tools they used to affect their escape.  But such is the state of affairs in our prison system—corruption is an everyday practice and oversight of prison guard activities is virtually non-existent.

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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