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Nation & World

New York Inmates Allegedly Assaulted By Corrections Officers After Prison Break

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Dozens of inmates are claiming they were assaulted by corrections officers after this summer's high-profile escape by two convicted murderers from a prison in Dannemora, N.Y. The charges were first reported in The New York Times, and now there are additional allegations of retribution. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: The New York Times investigation found as many as 60 inmates at Clinton Dannemora Prison who were allegedly harassed, threatened or beaten - some of them savagely - by corrections officers. Times reporter Michael Schwirtz was part of the team that interviewed inmate Patrick Alexander. Alexander lived in a cell next to the inmates who escaped.

MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ: At this interrogation, there were only corrections officers. And they proceeded then to beat him, according to Mr. Alexander, slamming his head against the wall and eventually put a bag over his head and suggested that they might waterboard him.

MANN: State officials in New York say they've been investigating charges of violence by corrections officers for several weeks, and they've promised to prosecute any wrongdoers. But Michael Cassidy, with an advocacy group called Prisoner Legal Services, says after Richard Matt and David Sweat broke out of Dannemora Prison, many inmates were transferred to other prisons, and, in some cases, held in solitary confinement for weeks. He worries that evidence of any violence may have been lost.

MICHAEL CASSIDY: If there were injuries that then weren't documented, injuries that would be healing, no longer - bruises and things of that sort - to demonstrate, you know, what they say happened to them.

MANN: Cassidy says the widespread use of solitary confinement raises questions about who orchestrated the interrogations and the prisoner transfers that followed. Michael Schwirtz, with The New York Times, says his paper is still trying to find out which prison officials were in charge of inmate transfers after the high-profile escape and why they occurred.

SCHWIRTZ: What we understand is there was an effort to get them out of Clinton so that they could be interrogated by state police and others without fear of reprisals. But why they would put them into solitary confinement and basically cut off their access to the outside world is also not clear.

MANN: State officials declined to comment on why some inmates were held in isolation. In a statement, the corrections officers' union pointed out that these claims of abuse have been raised by convicted felons and haven't yet been substantiated. But Michael Cassidy, with Prisoner Legal Services, says he's hearing from inmates still held at Clinton Correctional Facility who are worried that anger and frustration among officers could mean more violence.

CASSIDY: We've been getting a lot of complaints about the tension at the facility, ongoing complaints about, you know, threatening, intimidating, things of that sort. So it's very concerning.

MANN: Richard Matt was eventually killed during the manhunt and David Sweat was recaptured. So far, no inmates at Clinton Dannemora have been charged with aiding the prison break. The only arrests have targeted prison workers, including a guard who still faces charges of supplying the convicted murderers with contraband. Twelve other corrections officers and administrators have been suspended, with state officials refusing to say why they were placed on leave. For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann in Saranac Lake, N.Y. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.