Escape from Clinton

Everyone has something to say about the two murderers who escaped from the Clinton prison. No matter what the outcome, there are major issues that have been raised here. There has been extraordinary attention paid to a woman who worked as an industrial training supervisor at the prison. If in fact, these not-so-subtle allegations are correct and she did help these miscreants, she will be thrown in the clinker for a very long time. This makes you shake your head and wonder who would be so stupid to think that if she did help these guys that she will probably spend a good deal of the rest of her life behind bars. Her sexual past has already been chronicled in article after article, and while she may have had nothing to do with the escape, she has already paid a significant personal price.

From the first minute that Governor Cuomo appeared at the prison, he made clear his opinion that the escapees had help. Cuomo gave up a major horse race to get to the prison and to retrace the escape route of the convicts. Some of the press people were angry that he used his own photographer and didn’t allow any of the regular press photographers in with him. When he popped his head out of the sewer where the convicts exited the prison there were those who felt that he had overplayed his hand. Some of his detractors suggested it was a “Dukakis moment,” referring of course to then presidential candidate Dukakis’ picture in an Army tank.

The prison, of course, was constructed circa the Civil War and has lots of problems. There has to be constant construction work going on and that may be one of the reasons it was hard to hear the escapees as they used power tools to make their way out. The secure part of the prison has had an excellent record with almost no successful escapes. Nevertheless, we are learning more and more that our prisons often miss the mark when it comes to their correctional potential. In fact, some of the giant prisons in New York have long ago become economic engines which support local economies big time. Since many of the prisoners come from New York City and its environs the placement of prisons near the Canadian border do not make some sense in that they deprive families of the incarcerated opportunities to visit, perhaps lowering morale to the point of desperation leading to what we have just seen.

Since the prison industry is so important to the upstate regions, and since Governor Cuomo has put tremendous pressure on his administration to provide more economic opportunities for the upstate region, it is unlikely that Cuomo will do anything to close the prisons that are still left. In fact, every time the crime rate goes down there is impetus to close these facilities, and that enrages local communities that depend almost entirely on the prison industry.

Two other political controversies are sure to be put into play here. The first is gun control and Governor Cuomo’s “SAFE Act.” If a prisoner were ever to escape and take hostages there is no question that the gun people would say, “See, that might not have happened if people had guns.” It doesn’t make sense, of course, that’s politics and the pro gun people are sure to seize on this escape one way or the other. The second is the death penalty. While I do not support the death penalty on the basis that we have executed innocent people, it would take just one pro death penalty partisan to suggest that if anyone was murdered as a result of this escape that such a thing could not have happened if these two murderers had been put to death.

These two guys will be caught sooner than later and we will all know much more about the way all of this happened. Nevertheless, this whole thing has opened a lot of issues for us all to think about.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 6/15/15
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