A Dozen Officials Suspended As Probe Into N.Y. Prison Break Widens The house-cleaning of top administrators and guards at the prison where two inmates escaped comes as the FBI begins its own investigation into possible corruption and drug dealing at the facility.
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A Dozen Officials Suspended As Probe Into N.Y. Prison Break Widens

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A Dozen Officials Suspended As Probe Into N.Y. Prison Break Widens

A Dozen Officials Suspended As Probe Into N.Y. Prison Break Widens

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A dozen top administrators and frontline corrections officers were suspended today at the Clinton Correctional Facility. That's the prison in northern New York where two inmates escaped earlier this month. This housecleaning comes as the FBI has opened its own inquiry into operations at the maximum-security prison. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann has the latest.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: In a terse statement and without naming him directly, state corrections officials announced that Steven Racette, the top superintendent at Clinton Dannemora and 11 other administrators and frontline security officers have been placed on administrative leave. They declined to offer explanations for why these prison workers had been singled out except to confirm that the move is linked to the inquiry into the escape of convicted murderers Richard Matt and David Sweat. New York state officials have signaled from the start that the massive manhunt over the last three weeks was only the most visible part of their response to the prison break.

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D'AMICO: You know, we're doing two parts of this case. We have an investigative piece that's kind of delving into all the aspects of before and after.

MANN: That's State Police superintendent, Joseph D'Amico. His officers have already arrested one civilian worker and one uniformed guard.

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D'AMICO: We've conducted interviews with inmates, correction officers, contract employees and anyone else working here at Clinton Correctional.

MANN: Law enforcement sources have also confirmed that the FBI has opened its own preliminary investigation looking not just at how these inmates managed to escape but also at possible corruption or drug dealing by staff at Clinton Dannemora. This isn't the first time this prison has attracted scrutiny. In recent weeks, questions have been raised about lax security. But over the years, inmates have won repeated court battles after alleging violence and corruption on the part of corrections officers at Clinton Dannemora. Speaking yesterday with public radio's program "Capitol Pressroom," Governor Andrew Cuomo acknowledged the prison's controversial reputation.

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ANDREW CUOMO: This is the prison that they would threaten the other inmates in the rest of the system that if you didn't behave, you would go to Dannemora.

MANN: This prison sits in a small town in a remote corner of the Adirondack Mountains, and many of the corrections officers are family members, closely related. Jeff Hall is a prison historian whose father worked as a guard at Clinton Dannemora. He says past probes have been stymied by the close-knit prison staff.

JEFF HALL: Something that's referred to as the code of silence, which was sort of this term used to describe the use of extralegal violence against prisoners by officers inside Dannemora.

MANN: But now that silence may be breaking down. State police are interviewing escapee David Sweat about what he saw in the prison. And the two Clinton Dannemora employees already in custody are apparently cooperating with the investigation. Gene Palmer is the veteran corrections officer who's been accused of providing the inmates with contraband. Through his attorney, Palmer has said he had no direct knowledge of the escape plot, but in a 2000 interview with North Country Public Radio, he described the often tumultuous life inside the prison.

GENE PALMER: When we talk about gangs, that's one of the most challenging things that we have here 'cause they're little armies.

MANN: In that interview, Palmer also talked about the complicated web of rewards, favors and punishments in the prison and close relationships that often develop between corrections officers and inmates. That culture is now under the microscope as investigators try to sort out whether this escape reflects an isolated lapse in security or a wider breakdown among staff. For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann in northern New York.

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