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Experts: Duration of hostage crisis a good sign

Experts said Wednesday that the duration of the hostage situation at a prison that began increases the odds that the crisis will end peacefully.
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The long, drawn-out nature of an 11-day prison hostage crisis may actually help negotiators working for a peaceful end to the standoff.

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Patience and careful negotiation have already freed one prison guard at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis on the western edge of Phoenix, and officials are communicating with the remaining captive corrections officer.

Traditionally, the longer the situation lasts, the more likely the situation is to have peaceful resolution,” said Max Howard, a retired FBI negotiator and special agent.

As time goes by, hostage-takers can become tired and disappointed. When emotions decline, the captors’ rational thinking increases, said Howard, who is not involved in the current standoff.Two inmates and their hostage have been holed up since Jan. 18 in a guard tower, believed to be stocked with weapons. Negotiators have been in constant contact with the tower by phone.

“The release of the hostage and the continuation of negotiations since then lends this great hope that we will get the release of the other officer soon,” Department of Corrections spokeswoman Cam Hunter said Wednesday. “It takes as long as it takes.”

Catching a glimpse
On Tuesday night, negotiators were again able to secure a glimpse of the female hostage, at least the fifth time they have either spoken or seen her over the course of the ordeal at the 4,400-inmate medium- to high-security prison.

“She looks to be OK,” said Ivan Bartos, the Yuma prison warden who has been assisting state Department of Correction officials.

Tony Oldham, a retired FBI special agent and negotiator, said the release of one hostage Saturday, continued talks and opportunities for officials to see or speak with the remaining guard are positive signs.

“It appears to me the way it’s moving, it’s very successful,” said Oldham, who is not involved in the standoff. “Let’s be patient, and it will work itself out.”

The degree of danger that hostages face can be influenced by the interaction they had with the inmates before the standoff and the relationship that forms while captive, Howard said.

Psychologists have noted that hostages often bond with their captors. But that bond is less likely to develop among prisoners and their guards, Howard said.

‘World’s worst hostages’
“Law enforcement officers make some of the world’s worst hostages. They’re opposing their enemy and vice versa,” Howard said. “You have cats and dogs thrown together.”

Officials also must keep from giving the inmates concessions that might be seen by other inmates as an incentive to take hostages, said Paul Sutton, a criminal justice professor at San Diego State University who worked with the Attica Commission after a deadly hostage situation and siege at the New York prison in 1973.

While the Buckeye inmates’ demands haven’t been made public, inmates in past standoffs have asked for everything from better pay to more visitation opportunities to their release, Sutton said.

“That’s the ultimate goal for any inmate... freedom,” Sutton said. “It was probably made clear early on that wasn’t going to happen.”