A prison break at a maximum-security facility in New York is baffling authorities who are now frantically searching for two murderers who are on the loose.
Richard Matt, 48, was serving a sentence of 25 years to life for killing and dismembering his former boss in 1997, according to the Associated Press. David Sweat, 34, was serving a life sentence for killing a sheriff’s deputy.
They both escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, about 20 miles from the Canadian border, over the weekend. It was the first-ever escape from the prison, which opened in 1865.
The escape was elaborate. The pair reportedly used power tools to cut through a steel wall in their adjoining cells and escape through a steam pipe, according to Reuters. New York officials suspect the inmates might have had inside help in obtaining the power tools and breaking out, and police are now questioning a woman who worked at the prison and might have been an accomplice.
“I can assure you these individuals could not have done this by themselves,” Kevin Tamez, a New York-based managing partner for MPM Group, told Business Insider. MPM provides security consulting for many federal and state prisons.
“A search revealed that there was a hole cut out of the back of the cell through which these inmates escaped,” acting state corrections commissioner Anthony Annuci said at a press conference on Saturday.
“They went onto a catwalk which is about six stories high,” Annuci added. “We estimate they climbed down and had power tools and were able to get out to this facility through tunnels, cutting away at several spots.”
For the prisoners to “get into the bowels of the prison — the catwalk and all that — they’d need help,” Tamez said.
The prisoners likely planned their escape for weeks, Martin Horn, former commissioner of the New York City Department of Corrections, told Business Insider.
“My question is — I understand it’s an old prison, and it was in need of some upgrades — yet you have an area that sensitive down there [the catwalk], and it’s not alarmed, there’s no motion detectors, there’s nothing to alert the staff?” he said. “That’s mindboggling to me.”
The pair of convicts might have been able to identify weak links in the prison’s operations or taken advantage of loose tools.
“As these prisons get older, they require a lot of attention … and as a result the prisons have to rely on outside contractors,” Horn explained. “Outside contractors may or may not comply with [the protocols]. A worker might be reluctant to report the tool as being lost over fear of losing their job.”
Because of the information and planning required to pull off an escape this seamlessly, Tamez echoed speculation about the likely involvement of someone with “intimate knowledge of the design of that prison,” as he put it.
“The lighting wasn’t great down there, I can guess, but they knew exactly where to go and what pipes to cut,” Tamez added. “I’d like to think it wasn’t a prison employee or a former prison employee [who many have helped the escape].”
The prisoners might also have been able to figure out the layout of the prison’s back channels through work on a maintenance crew.
“Behind each of these cells there are pipes and wires … that allow service access,” Horn said. “It’s not uncommon to use prisoners as part of the maintenance work, so it’s entirely possible that these guys had been on a maintenance crew … and had observed the layout.”
Blueprints downloaded from a smartphone with internet access could have also aided the duo.
“The smuggling of mobile phones and smartphones into prisons has become a plague all over the country,” Horn said.
As for the sawing required to cut through the steel wall and pipes, the inmates might have worked at that slowly over an extended period of time.
“These are big cell blocks … and there are periods of the day where it can be very noisy,” Horn said. “They’re timing those officers and they know what their routines are, so they know when the noise will be masked and the officers aren’t there to observe them.”
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