Inmate Says Guards Threatened to Waterboard Him After New York Prison Break

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Convicted Murderers Escape From New York State Prison
Photo: Handout/2015 New York State Governor's Office

After two inmates escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in early June, leaving everyone to wonder what awful things might happen outside the prison’s walls, there were plenty of horrible things already happening to the prisoners still trapped inside. A new report from the New York Times says that inmates accused guards, who were searching for information about the escape, of punching them in the face and ribs; slamming them against walls; shackling them so tight that it caused bruises; threatening to waterboard them; denying them medical care after hurting them; tying plastic bags around their necks until they passed out; putting them in solitary confinement for weeks; throwing away their wedding rings, photos, years of correspondence, and diaries; taking away honor-block privileges that took years to learn; yelling at them; and transferring them to different prisons.

Such accusations are familiar at Clinton Correctional, the largest prison in the state; 20 years ago, the New York Times published a special report titled "Brutality Behind Bars."

A more recent report from the Correctional Association of New York noted that "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."

No inmates besides David Sweat and the deceased Richard Matt were found to have any connection with the prison break; several prison employees, on the other hand, have been charged, suspended, or fired. Inmates, according to the Times report, joked that the "only ones walking the cellblocks on the overnight shift were the cockroaches." Prisoners’ Legal Services has received at least 60 complaints from inmates, which the Department of Corrections is reportedly investigating. 

Patrick Alexander, a convicted murderer in the cell next to the one Sweat and Matt escaped from, remembered that Governor Andrew Cuomo “gave me his best tough guy stare and walked off" when he visited the prison. Cuomo later said on Morning Joe"I would be shocked if a correction officer was involved."