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N.Y. Prison Where Inmates Escaped Fosters Brutality, Racism, Abuse: Report

by Erik Ortiz /

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The upstate New York prison under scrutiny after two inmates hack-sawed their way to freedom this month has earned a hardcore reputation for a history of "staff violence, brutality and abuse," according to one report.

About 91 percent of inmates at Clinton Correctional Facility in the tiny village of Dannemora are serving time for violent crimes. With an inmate population of nearly 3,000, conditions within the state's largest prison — nicknamed Little Siberia for its remote location — are bleak, claims the nonprofit Correctional Association of New York.

"Survey responses ... consistently ranked Clinton in the worst group of CA-visited prisons on a variety of indicators of physical conflict between staff and incarcerated persons, racial tension, and verbal harassment, threats, and intimidation," the association, which advocates for humane criminal justice, wrote in an October report.

Its findings were based on a two-day visit in 2012, a survey of 610 inmates, as well as state data.

Inmates in the main prison serve a median minimum sentence of 14 years — almost three times as long as the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision's system-wide median minimum of five years and two months, according to the report.

In its early years, Clinton was briefly the site of death penalty executions, and around 1897, it began to specialize in inmates who had more felony convictions and trouble adjusting to prison.

"Oh, absolutely it's dangerous, it's terribly dangerous," ex-Clinton inmate John Mulligan told NBC affiliate WSTM. "I've had physical confrontations with people over the years ... it's not a matter of whether you win or lose — it's a matter if you're gonna fight back."

The perils of prison are apparently heightened by an environment that fosters alleged racial and verbal harassment, threats, false tickets and retaliation by officers, the Correctional Association of New York said in its report, which has gained renewed interest in the past week.

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Jeremy Getman, who served three years in Clinton following a 2001 conviction on weapons charges, said the facility was a "mixed-bag" with officers wanting to help inmates and others who would "play God."

"The thought does come to mind, how does this type of behavior go on? How do people get away with this?" the ex-inmate told NBC News. "But in these cases, it's the officer's word over yours."

He added that a sense of "crookedness" that is unchecked can snowball into something as serious as inmates concocting an elaborate escape plan — and getting away with it.

The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News.

The two inmates still on the run — David Sweat and Richard Matt — allegedly got help from a prison seamstress who police say supplied them with power tools to bust out of their cells.

While the search has focused primarily in and around Dannemora, a senior New York official told NBC News on Tuesday that authorities have received no solid intelligence over the past four days as to the whereabouts of Sweat and Matt.

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The Correctional Association of New York suggested several reforms for Clinton, such as ensuring staff do not use excessive force, removing abusive officers and providing adequate training.

The report also recommended the hiring of more staff for substance abuse and academic programs.

Mulligan said he doesn't think additional corrections officers would help the situation, according to WSTM.

"They could get 200 more guards on every shift and there's still gonna be violence," Mulligan said.

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