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Previous NY Escapee Fails to Negotiate Privileges in Exchange for Revealing Security Flaws

by Derek Gilna

New York state prisoner David Sweat became famous – or rather infamous – when he and fellow prisoner Richard W. Matt escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York in 2015. The pair led authorities on a three-week search through the rural area, known for its dense pine forests, until Sweat was shot and recaptured, and Matt was killed. [See: PLN, Sept. 2017, p.63; Jan. 2017, p.26; Feb. 2016, p.63].

The escape and manhunt focused unwanted attention on security shortcomings, not only at the Clinton facility but also at other state prisons as journalists probed for details. Sweat, who was already serving a life sentence, received an additional three-to-seven years for the escape.

“Who wants to spend their life in here? I didn’t do it to be famous.... I did it to get out of this madness. I wanted to start a new life,” Sweat said in a book about the incident, Wild Escape, written by Chelsia Rose Marcius and released on February 27, 2018.

Transferred to the Security Housing Unit at the Five Points Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in upstate New York, Sweat began looking for deficiencies in its security operations and claimed that he found some. Instead of attempting another escape, he notified authorities that if they agreed to give him an extra visit each week, food packages, and photos with his girlfriend and her daughter, he would reveal the security flaws.

Sweat then met with officials from both the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and the state Inspector General’s office, and also described the security problems at the facility in an interview with the New York Times on December 20, 2017.

However, rather than receiving additional privileges, Sweat was transferred to the Special Housing Unit at the Attica Correctional Facility.

Prison officials said they had “investigated his claims and found them without merit,” but “out of an abundance of caution, and in accordance with the department’s biannual review policy, Sweat was moved to Attica.”

In his interview with the Times, Sweat stated, “I just have this ability to take things apart and put them back together.” He said he had no desire to escape again, but was only seeking additional privileges and denied prison officials’ claim that he was on a hunger strike to protest the transfer.

Sweat said his refusal to eat, which landed him in the prison’s medical unit, was not because he was on a hunger strike but instead due to his concerns that guards, angry over his previous high-profile escape, had threatened to tamper with his meals.

“[Prison guards] said they were going to put something in my food,” he claimed. State officials obtained a court order to force-feed him on December 21, 2017. 



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