O'Donnell Statement Regarding the Inspector General Report on Clinton Escape

Yesterday the State Inspector General published its report on the failures within the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) that led to the escape of Richard Matt and David Sweat from Clinton Correctional Facility.

“A year after the Clinton escape, the Inspector General released a comprehensive report highlighting the systemic problems with the oversight of DOCCS. Lack of transparency, accountability, and security resulted in a prison escape that led to a $23 million manhunt. We are seeing a pattern of oversight failures, largely fueled by biased internal investigations. The question is what do we do about it? I proposed creating an Office of the Correctional Ombudsman; bill A9939, which would have independent oversight of DOCCS. Clearly, we cannot continue to allow DOCCS to police itself. The ombudsman office is the best way to increase accountability and transparency to improve safety of correctional officers, staff and inmates. I commend the Inspector General's report for publicizing these problems and am confident it will lead to important legislative changes for New York State,” O’Donnell said.

A9939 accomplishes the goals of accountability and transparency by granting investigative powers to an outside, independent entity. The ombudsman will conduct contemporaneous investigations into incidents involving the safety of inmates, correctional officers and staff, refer criminal matters to law enforcement, monitor prisons, and investigate a wide variety of matters brought to his or her attention by inmates, employees and the public, among other responsibilities. The Office of the Correctional Ombudsman would not force DOCCS to stop investigating unusual incidents in its prisons; it would simply be an independent oversight agency designed to monitor the prisons, investigate complaints and report to the governor, the legislature, DOCCS and the public.

Establishing an independent oversight entity may be a new idea in New York, but it is not in many other states. California, New Jersey, Indiana, Hawaii, Iowa, and Georgia have implemented independent monitoring agencies. In Great Britain, the entire country has independent oversight to supervise abuse and misconduct in their correctional system. The Office of the Correctional Ombudsman will provide a public window into the closed world of prisons. The Inspector General's report and the continued attention on criminal justice reform emphasize the dire need for this kind of legislation.