OP-ED: – By Art Beeler for the SouthFloridaReporter.com, June 30, 2015 – The press and the general public have been enthralled with the escape of two inmates from the NY State Department of Corrections. Anytime two very dangerous people escape from a secure facility, it is time to take notice. But putting it into perspective, I looked at data concerning escapes from federal custody during 2010. The federal prison population exceeded 210,000 during this time. For all escapes to include people who walked away from minimum security facilities or halfway houses, the total according to the data I reviewed was 457; showing an escape rate of .0021. Granted one escape from a secure facility is way too many, but the incidence needs to be put in perspective.
Some in the news media have been “bashing” correctional officers. This does absolutely no good and simply enhances the schism between corrections and the community. While there are always bad apples in any profession, to categorize all correctional officers in the manner news media has as not professional is a disservice to the vast majority of officers and workers who do their job each and every day to keep the public safe. So to stereotype all correctional officers as unprofessional and not really law enforcement is narrow minded, untrue and without merit.
Certainly, the escape will point out problems, but my experience is generally the problems are systems issues and not necessarily people issues. Granted there needs to be a complete after action and I would trust NY will get some agency like the National Institute of Corrections to complete, I would almost guarantee there were systems issues which will need to be addressed above and beyond any staff involvement. From news media accounts, we already know of one systems problem, the escapees were able to secure tools from the contractor’s working at the prison. If this is true, somewhere along the lines there was a significant systems issue. There will be others.
Regarding the female staff member allegedly involved in the escape, somehow the two offenders manipulated her into believing she was wonderful, beautiful, sexy etc. Most every case I dealt with over the years where a female staff member was involved with offenders was because the staff member was lacking something in her personal life and the offenders picked up on this and were able to capitalize on it. Boundaries training are a must for all staff. But as important as the training is, staff has to be willing to either stop someone from participating in such behavior or report it. You have heard of the blue code of silence, in corrections it is often called the gray code of silence, but it conveys the same, you do not tell on your fellow correctional worker.
I do not know if there were signs this woman was involved with these two offenders inappropriately, but I would suggest there probably were signs. If there were signs, it appears no one spoke up. If there were people who saw her behavior or signs of her behavior and did not take affirmative action, in my mind they are as guilty as she. If the charges are true not only did she conspire to assist them in their escape, she is guilty of engaging in a sexual act and having an inappropriate relationship. These violations of the Prison Rape Elimination Act often foretell more significant issues.
But to put all staff into the category of being unprofessional is unfair and untrue. To say they are not “real” officers because they do not carry guns demonstrate significant misunderstanding as to the role and dangers of correctional workers. I do not know many people who have the skill set to see the same person for many years, is charged with enforcing the security and rules, and does so with an interpersonal ability which would rival most psychologists. Many police officers, especially those with some maturity, will simply tell you they could not or do not want the job of correctional officer. I will also tell you there is not a correctional administrator worth their salt, who did not think, though by the grace of God. I bet there were a whole lot of wardens, superintendents and administrators checking tool control among other things these past few weeks. So when you see something sensational on the news, take a moment and put it in perspective, but most importantly do not “lump” all correctional workers and stereotype their behavior as unworthy.