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Daring MCC Chicago Escape Directs Unwanted Attention on BOP Operations

The mission statement on the wall of every Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facility makes clear the main priority of BOP staff, and it’s not “rehabilitation.” The BOP sees its main duty to keep prisoners locked up, at least until the clock runs out on their sentence.  That’s true in most cases.

However, Joseph “Jose” Banks, 37, and Kenneth Conley, 38, two prisoners at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, or MCC, in Chicago, had other ideas.  The MCC is one of several high-security holding facilities located in major cities around the country.

Although a small percentage of prisoners are “designated” there for the balance of their sentences, it functions mainly as a place to securely house individuals awaiting trial, or in transit from one BOP facility to another.

Located in a 27-floor triangular-shaped high rise on the outskirts of the Chicago downtown area, it looks like any other slightly faded 1950’s vintage skyscraper, and many Chicagoans walk past it every day and have no idea that it houses a prison, as well as administrative offices for the BOP regional staff.  There are no bars on the windows, which are narrow slits supposedly too small to be squeezed through even if the glass could be removed.  Each floor has only three exits, two of which are locked interior fire escapes, and prisoners move from floor to floor on two closely-guarded elevators.  It appears to be escape-proof.

Cellmates Banks and Conley had other ideas.  Apparently they managed to chisel away part of a concrete block below the narrow window in their cell, removed the window, and descended almost twenty stories in their orange jump suits to freedom. The immediate question is how they could have performed these alterations on their cells without access to tools for chiseling or digging. The bigger question is how they were able to keep this project, which had to have taken several days or weeks to accomplish, from being discovered on the multiple daily head counts performed by prison staff.

The daring December 2012 escape was the first in almost three decades, and focused unwanted attention on the notoriously publicity-shy BOP staff training and supervision policies.  The answer may lie in the fact that for the most part prison is a boring place, for both prisoners and staff alike, and boredom is the enemy of attentiveness and discipline.

Both Banks and Conley were recaptured within several days after extensive manhunts by dozens of law enforcement personnel scoured their former neighborhoods and social haunts.  Conley was in jail was robbing a bank at gunpoint of $4,000, and Banks had been accused of stealing over $600,000 from banks.  It is highly unlikely that they will be cellmates again any time soon.

Source: Associated Press

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