Several retired correctional officers who worked at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York tell Breitbart News the controversy sparked by a report that aired on Fox News’ “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren” program is much ado over nothing.
The report showed Van Susteren interviewing Fox News reporter Molly Line, who was standing on Cook Street (Dannemora’s main thoroughfare) just outside the Clinton Correctional Facility’s 40 foot high walls. In the background of the video, a woman is seen placing an item in a basket that has been lowered down from the guard tower above. The item is then hoisted up to the guard tower.
An “observant viewer” caught the background action. As North Country Public Radio reported:
The viewer who recorded the segment and posted it online was clearly flabbergasted and exclaimed, “How do they get the stuff inside the prison, we don’t know. Right there! There you go!”
Another viewer posted a YouTube video of the interview, under the title “Dannemora Prison contraband goes over wall during News Cast!”
The videos sparked concerns about security at the prison that had just experienced its first escape in its 170 years existence on June 6 when convicted killers Richard Matt, age 48, and David Sweat, age 35, broke out by cutting holes in their cells, crawling through steam pipes after cutting into them with power tools, then cutting through padlocks of a manhole cover 150 feet outside the prison in the village of Dannemora and climbing out to the street above.
The New York State Department of Corrections offered no immediate explanation for what viewers saw on the video, but retired correctional officers who spent decades working at the Clinton Correctional Facility have set the record straight for Breitbart News.
“What the ‘observant viewer’ saw was not a rope being sent down by an inmate. It was a rope lowered by a tower officer to get some dinner after 16 hours up there,” one retired correctional officer tells Breitbart News.
Tower guards usually work 8 hour shifts, but the retired officer speculates that, since the escape, tower guards are likely working 16 hour shifts.
“The only point of access to the guard tower is via a door on the outside that requires a key. Then you walk up a set of stairs to the watch tower room,” another retired correctional officer who worked the guard tower shift many times in a long career at the Clinton Correctional Facility tells Breitbart News.
“I saw the story and I can tell you that it is nothing,” an additional retired correctional officer tells Breitbart News.
“There is no way into the guard tower from inside the prison. The only way in is to unlock a door from the outside and climb up. The procedure use to be that the officer on duty is locked in from below. He has the key so no one else can enter his guard tower from below,” the retired correctional officer says.
“When he is relieved after his tour of duty is up, he sees his relief officer coming to relieve him and he lowers the bag down to him with the key in it. Then the relief officer can climb up and relieve him. That has been the procedure for relief for as long as I can remember,” the retired correctional officer, who worked at the prison for more than two decades, tells Breitbart News.
On Monday, Fox News’ Van Sustern followed up on the Friday report in her “On The Record” program, telling her audience that “everything should go through the front door” at the prison:
We were told it’s legitimate but, if you ask me, even if this has been going on for generations, as a way to get things from the ground to the towers, I think everything should go through the front door of the prison and not up the back wall on a pulley because you never know if something could go wrong.
The retired correctional officers tell Breitbart News that Van Susteren’s suggestion that “everything should go through the front door of the prison and not up the back wall on a pulley” is one that is not very safe.
“The reason things intended for the guard in the tower don’t go through the front door is because they don’t want to lower a rope inside the compound to get something to the guard. All access to towers is from the outside,” the retired correctional officer tells Breitbart News.
“The reason any time anything is raised or lowered it’s from the outside is for security purposes,” the retired correctional officer tells Breitbart News.
“Too much could go wrong if you lowered it from the inside,” the officer says. As an example, trouble in the yard with a number of prisoners who somehow gained access to the rope and pulley system if it operated from the inside could endanger the correctional officer in the guard tower.
“When someone approaches a tower from the outside they have to be identified by the tower officer. If you can’t identify the individual you call the watch commander,” the retired officer tells Breitbart News.
Another retired correctional officer tells Breitbart News that there are fourteen guard towers at the prison. There is no way to access any of the guard towers from the inside of the prison. There are no doors with stairs that lead to the guard tower on the inside. The only door to each tower is located on the outside.
Greta Van Sustern also told her viewers on Monday she has another problem with the outside rope and pulley system at the prison.
“But beyond that, how about the optics?” she asked on her program Monday night. “This is a prison in which someone sneaked more than a file in a cake and two vicious guys escaped and this is what they do on camera on national TV? At best, not a great PR move,” she said.
The Communications Office of the New York State Department of Corrections could have readily explained this straightforward issue to the media, but apparently failed to do so.
Lacking such an explanation, it is easy to see how viewers jumped to the incorrect conclusion they had just witnessed a security breach at a prison that less than two weeks earlier had been the scene of a dramatic escape, one in which the two escapees remain at large, despite a massive manhunt to find them.
In an ironic twist to the guard tower issue, sources tell Breitbart News that on the evening of June 5 and the early morning of June 6 when the two convicts escaped, there was no correctional officer manning the guard tower closest to the manhole at the intersection of Barker St. and Bouck St. in the village of Dannemora the convicts cut through to make good their escape. That tower was unmanned due to budget cuts.