Clinton Correctional Facility Eliminates 'Honor Block' and Institutes Stricter Regulations in Wake of Escape

Clinton Correctional Facility instituted new regulations after prisoners escaped

ByABC News
July 1, 2015, 7:12 PM
A sign at Clinton Correctional Facility thanks the community as the search for two escaped prisoners from the facility continues, June 24, 2015, in Dannemora, N.Y.
A sign at Clinton Correctional Facility thanks the community as the search for two escaped prisoners from the facility continues, June 24, 2015, in Dannemora, N.Y.
Mike Groll/AP Photo

— -- New York State corrections officials instituted a set of stricter regulations in the wake of the historic escape of two inmates from a maximum security prison, including eliminating the "honor block," which gave inmates special privileges and checking cells and the catwalks behind them every week, officials said.

They also named a new head of Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, Michael Kirkpatrick, after three of the top executives, Superintendent Steven Racette and deputy superintendents Stephen Brown and Donald Quinn were placed on paid leave along with nine others.

Richard Matt and David Sweat pulled off a dramatic escape from the prison -- the first in its history -- on June 6, escaping via the catwalk and through walls and pipes reminiscent of "Shawshank Redemption." Matt was killed by border patrol and Sweat shot and captured after a three-week manhunt that involved more than 1,000 officers.

The men were housed in the so-called honor block, a special section of the prison for well-behaved inmates that let prisoners remain out of their cells for most of the day and have special jobs like assisting plumbers and electricians, according to a source and former inmate Erik Jensen.

Honor block inmates are also allowed to cook in the cell block, have phone use and get recreation as well as wear plain clothes, according to regulations and Jensen. They only have to wear uniforms to the mess hall and work assignments, according to Jensen.

The honor block was "eliminated pending further review and all inmates are subject to the same security restrictions," the corrections department said.

Corrections officials also announced that a senior member of the security staff will be inspecting each cell's "integrity" and the catwalk behind it every week. Every cell was checked in the wake of the June 6 escape, corrections officials said.

Sweat was allegedly allowed to access his cell's electrical boxes via the catwalk by Corrections Officer Gene Palmer. Palmer -- who has been charged with promoting prison contraband, but insists he did not know about the escape plan -- said that he allowed Sweat to access the boxes in order to "enhance their ability to cook in their cells," according to a statement that he allegedly gave police.

In the wake of the escape, all of the panels in the honor block, were inspected to see if the appropriate amperage was being used. The rest of the cells in the prison were in the process of being inspected, corrections officials said.

Among the other security enhancements were:

  • Installing security gates in the tunnels and making inspections monthly instead of biannual.
  • Creating new rules for contractors including securing "job boxes" in a gated area and not storing them in tunnels.
  • Using a heartbeat detection monitor to bolster searches.
  • Tripling the number of cells searched for contraband each day and searching every cell "at least once every two months."
  • Conducting bed checks at random intervals.
  • Keeping a member of the executive team on the overnight shift.
  • Requiring executive staff to visually inspect head counts and other security procedures.

Sweat claimed that he was able to conduct a dry run of the escape the night before and may have been planning their escape for six months, according to an interview with Clinton County DA Andrew Wylie.

Sweat and Matt allegedly used tools to cut through the back wall of their adjacent cells and access the catwalk behind them. The also broke through a brick wall, cut into a steam pipe slithered through it and finally emerged at a manhole outside the prison.

Some of the tools that they used to escape were in a toolbox left behind by contractors.

A prison worker, Joyce Mitchell, was charged with promoting contraband for allegedly passing Matt hacksaw blades and other tools in frozen hamburger meat.

She pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Palmer then said that he gave the package of meat to Matt, not knowing what was inside, according to a statement given to police.

He waived a right to a preliminary hearing Monday and did not enter a plea.