After three weeks on the run, the ballad of escaped prisoners David Sweat and Richard Matt has reached its conclusion: Matt was fatally shot and Sweat was captured. He won't be going back to the "honor block" anytime soon, but thanks to his hijinks, neither will anyone else.
Clinton Correctional Facility is doing away with its honor block, a special wing reserved for prisoners who display impeccable behavior during their time behind bars. At Clinton, honor block inmates enjoyed several liberties, among them, the right to wear street clothes, have jobs and cook for themselves. Now, those prisoners—the ones who did not try to escape, who actually earned the freedom to wear sweatpants and make their own emetic peacamole, are the ones who are being punished.
Sure, there will be other changes: The Department of Corrections also announced a new warden, in addition to more stringent cell searches, more security gates, and locking up the power tools somewhere "inaccessible to inmates." Twelve prison staff—including the former warden, Steven Racette, have also been placed on leave.
According to ABC, honor block detainees were permitted spend the majority of their time out of their cells, and were also given leeway with laundry, phone use and recreation. That freedom, though, also meant they had prolonged contact with guards, and relationships that formed therein often breached the line of inmate-guard appropriateness.
"The CO's [correction officers] would go hunting, give deer meat to inmates, cook it, sometimes share bowls of food with inmates," one former inmate told the station. "That's how close a relationship they had with some of the guys in there."
This, of course, was obviously the problem with the pair's relationship with Joyce Mitchell, who supervised Sweat and Matt—who were both convicted killers—in the prison's tailor shop and supplied them the tools they'd eventually use for their escape and with Gene Palmer, a guard who traded tools in exchange for Matt's paintings. But the onus on preventing inappropriate relationships with prisoners should fall to the Department of Corrections, not inmates who have spent years cultivating enough trust among officials to gain a modicum of freedom.
James Conway, a superintendent at Attica, defended the use of honor blocks as an incentive for good behavior. To take that away from all prisoners is a misguided reaction to a different problem, he said.
"These inmates in Clinton didn't cut out of their cells because they were housed in an honor block. They cut out of their cells because employees brought them tools with which to cut out of a metal cell, he told TWC News. "I hope we react to it. I hope we don't overreact to it. The investigation has to include what privileges did they enjoy that allowed them to escape."
"It was the frailties of mankind of human that happened to fall prey to these manipulators."