As the manhunt for New York prison escapees Richard Matt and David Sweat stretches into its 12th day, the inmates still locked behind bars are the ones feeling the blowback.
"The liberties prisoners are accustomed to are now suspended, and perhaps permanently,” Teresa Miller, a law professor at the SUNY Buffalo Law School, told The Huffington Post. “I think the world has a tendency to romanticize prison escapees, but the reality is that [the escape has] made life much harder for other inmates."
On Wednesday, the “honor block” at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, where Matt and Sweat were housed, was returned to regular prison housing, the Times Union reported. Family members of inmates at Clinton have told The New York Times they’ve had zero communication with their loved ones since the prison was locked down following the June 6 escape.
“We keep calling the prison and they don’t tell us anything,” Geneva Perez, whose husband is serving a life sentence in Clinton, told the Times.
Impatient state lawmakers have proposed new ways to further secure the maximum-security site that Miller described as “a fortress.” State Sen. Kathy Marchione (R) proposed implanting a GPS chip into prisoners. Other lawmakers suggested permanently stripping honor block privileges that allow inmates to wear clothing other than prison uniforms.
"Despite the fact you’ve had 170 years of no escapes from this maximum-security prison -- it was adequate to prevent escapes until it wasn’t,” said Miller, who has toured Clinton and other maximum-security prisons in New York.
In this handout from the New York State Police, progression images of escaped inmates David Sweat (L) and Richard Matt are seen. Sweat and fellow inmate Matt escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York on June 6, and a manhunt for them is ongoing. The images are intended to show what the inmates would look like after almost two weeks on the run. (Photo by New York State Police via Getty Images)
Miller said the heightened concern for security may stymie prison reform efforts, and she worried that “the political will to decarcerate and shrink the footprint of the prison industry in the state will waver."
"People act very emotionally -- and these are scary people who did dangerous things,” Miller said. "Part of it will have to do with if and when they’re caught. The more time that passes since the escape and before they’re apprehended, the less sunny the future looks for prison reform."
Miller said prison reform has vastly improved conditions since the nation’s deadliest prison riot at Attica in 1971, when prisoners frustrated by racism and lack of religious accommodation staged an uprising that killed 10 hostages and 29 inmates.
"The whole New York correctional system is on alert. No one wants to see a repeat of this,” Miller said of tensions over the Clinton prison break. "Things that were taken for granted, processes that were understood as effective before are being re-evlauated.
"It’s kind of like a riot, or a prison uprising,” Miller added. "The first time, shame on you, the second time, shame on me.”