Over the past few weeks, my Facebook news feed has strongly consisted of posts about the prison escape from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, NY. From people wanting the $50,000 reward to people scared for their children’s lives, I have read hundreds of posts.
This past Friday, it got even more intense. One of the two escaped prisoners, Richard Matt was captured and killed in Malone, NY. This is the very small town where I spent my elementary and middle school years. Yesterday, the second escaped prisoner, David Sweat, was captured in an even smaller town, Constable, NY. This was the actual town I lived in for those five years. To show just how small the town is – the population of Constable was 1,566 people in 2010 and the area is only 32.8 square miles. My house was only a few miles away from the Canadian border and less than a few miles away from where David Sweat was captured. The church I went to every Sunday, a 0.1 mile walk from my house, was shown in video with the 10+ cop cars.
Unfortunately, many of the posts and articles I have read about this situation have been filled with opinions and are lacking some real facts. I must admit, before I continue, that I was raised from a very early age to have a sort of sympathy for prisoners. My mother is the executive director of Prisoner’s Legal Services of New York. As given on the PLS homepage, “PLS’ mission is to provide high quality, effective legal representation and assistance to indigent prisoners, to help them to secure their civil and human rights, and to advocate for humane prisons and for a more humane criminal justice system.”
I understand that people who break the law should be punished, however, most people do not even begin to understand what goes on behind the scenes at prisons. There is so much work to be done in today’s prison system, but unfortunately this is not a top priority of the government.
I am looking to provide some facts about both the prisons today, prisoners, and this particular situation. I am also looking to show that the content that many of us have read over the past several days has been vastly opinionated and subjective.
For example, New York State Senator Betty Little said, “The two escapees were highly dangerous, assumed to be armed and, without question, willing to do anything to elude capture” (1). This is an opinion. The only facts we know is why the prisoners went to jail, that they ultimately escaped, and (most importantly) that they have caused no harm in the three weeks that they have been on the run.
Senator Little’s statement was likely because of why these men went to prison. If they committed murder once, they won’t shy away from doing it again, right? Very wrong. People that go to prison for murder have one of the lowest recidivism rates of all offenders. This article discusses just how low these rates are. A state parole board gave the following statistics, “Of 368 convicted murderers granted parole in New York between 1999 and 2003, six, or 1.6 percent, were returned to prison within three years for a new felony conviction — none of them a violent offense.” Furthermore, in 2014, recidivism rates in general, for all offenses, had fallen to a 28 year low (2).
As I scroll through Facebook, I see posts such as “Matt is dead!!!!” and “I can finally sleep tonight knowing they are not out there.” These two men are people too. No life deserves to be taken. They both broke the law: Fact. They both escaped prison: Fact. They are still human beings and deserve to be treated as such: Fact.
One thought occurred to me the other day… Think about just how awful the conditions must be in Dannemora for two men to think that a life of being on the run, in hiding, in isolation and in fear is better than being in a prison getting daily meals. I am still not justifying that they should not be put back in prison or that what they did was right. Just advocating for them that people should take a minute and think about these people as humans and not prisoners.
I know that people may respond to this suggesting that I do not know quite how people in Malone felt since I am so far away from the area. Please remember that I do have an Uncle and two cousins who live very close to where Matt was found. I also have many friends, teachers, fellow church goers, and more that I care very deeply about. However, when I got news of the escape and when I heard that Matt was found in Malone, I was never fearful for any of their lives. The facts above made me feel confident that things would be okay.
I will never understand, nor will I attempt to consider what goes on in the brains of a criminal. Most of these men and women have some sort of mental illness that none of us can comprehend. But to suggest that any of these people deserve death, or potentially worse, solitary confinement for life, is unjust and uncivilized.
Follow this link for a short video a fourteen year old made for a school project that I think sums up a lot of this stuff very well.
Hopefully I remained as unbiased as possible and was able to present you with some facts that are missing from the “Prisoners captured” articles. No one knows the full story besides Richard Matt and David Sweat. We all must try not to form misled opinions, but rather look only at the facts. Rather than judging these men for escaping a prison, maybe we should take a step back and see what we can do inside the prisons to help the men and women to become better people. It is easy and simple to condemn Matt and Sweat, it is much more difficult to take a second look at the system and reach out to make improvements.