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Long IslandPoliticsSpin Cycle

Questions persist about Dannemora escape, aftermath

Authorities search for two escaped murderers from the

Authorities search for two escaped murderers from the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate Dannemora on June 16, 2015. Photo Credit: AP / Mark Lennihan

The chase is over, but the political fallout from the escape of two Dannemora prisoners is far from done.

In the last week, officials acknowledged that dozens of inmates at the Clinton Correctional Facility in northern New York have filed complaints saying they were beaten and abused by angry prison guards in the aftermath of the June escape by murderers Richard Matt and David Sweat.

The inmates said they had nothing to do with the prison break but were targeted for retribution. They said guards, possibly feeling pressured and embarrassed, took it out on them. Some were beaten, transferred to other prisons, sent to solitary confinement, stripped of their privileges and had personal belongings taken away.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's administration said it is looking into the claims. The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision sent out a statement, saying: "These allegations have been under investigation by the DOCCS Office of Special Investigations for several weeks and have also been referred to the State Inspector General. Any findings of misconduct or abuse against inmates will be punished to the full extent of the law."

The correction officers' union said it would wait until "the investigation is complete" to "give our viewpoints."

The list of questions following New York's biggest prison break in decades continues to grow.
So far, no inmates have been implicated in the June 6 escape. The only help Matt and Sweat allegedly received, in fact, was from prison employees.

Before the prisoners' complaints (first reported by The New York Times), the fallout focus had been on the tunnels.The pair cut tunnels to escape from their cells to reach interior catwalks and, eventually, a sewer line that opened to the streets of Dannemora -- drawing inevitable comparisons to the movie "The Shawshank Redemption." Matt was shot and killed June 27 about 30 miles from the prison. Sweat was shot and captured two days later.

Joyce Mitchell, a former prison tailor shop worker, has pleaded guilty to aiding the pair by smuggling a hacksaw blade and other tools to them. A guard has been accused of bringing Matt frozen meat inside which Mitchell hid the blade.

Twelve other Dannemora employees have been suspended. Former Dannemora Superintendent Steven Racette will take retirement -- though his wife told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise he had to retire or face demotion, and charged he was being scapegoated by the Cuomo administration.

Cuomo has said "practices" at the prison would be examined. These likely will include cell checks and the use of the "honor block" for well-behaved inmates.

There might be further questions about the search itself, which took three weeks and reportedly cost a million dollars per day. And there might be a look at why the Corrections Department hasn't had a permanent commissioner since 2013.

The Republican-led State Senate has promised hearings. The Democrat-led Assembly has said it will wait for the Cuomo administration's internal report.


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