ALBANY -- The ability of prison workers to slip tools to inmates in frozen meat that led to a breakout two years ago may be the impetus for a new policy at New York prisons: only clear plastic bags allowed.
The state Department of Corrections said it has implemented new efforts to crackdown on contraband entering its 54-prison system, including requiring all workers to use state-issued clear plastic bags for their food and personal items.
"The department is in the process of implementing new protocols for all staff who work in prisons, including more scheduled metal detector searches and the issuance of clear bags, which are provided to staff and will be required to transport their personal items in and out of the facilities," agency spokesman Thomas Mailey said in a statement.
The department said it has implemented sweeping changes to its security protocols, including new metal detectors, better oversight of packages entering the facilities and doubling its K-9 force.
The moves come nearly two years after two convicted killers escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in northern New York, leading to a three-week manhunt that led to one of the escapees, Richard Matt, being killed by police and the other, David Sweat, being captured.
The June 5, 2015, escape was an embarrassment to the prison system and the Dannemora facility, which was known "Little Siberia" for its security.
In September 2015, prison worker Joyce Mitchell was sentenced to up to seven years in prison for her role the caper, which included slipping Matt and Sweat supplies so they could cut through walls and pipes.
Prison guard Gene Palmer also pleaded guilty to aiding the prisoners, and he already served six months in jail.
Mitchell brought the tools, such as hacksaw blades, into the prison and then Palmer got it to the men, in some cases, in packages of frozen meat, according to a 2016 report from the Inspector General's Office.
The report showed major lapses at the maximum-security prison, and Sweat told investigators he was out of his cell “every single night” for nearly three months prepping for the escape.
Mailey said the new policies "are in line with best practices in other prison systems and recommendations from the state Inspector General."
It was unclear how many state-issued bags were ordered and how much they cost the state to purchase.
There was no immediate comment from the correction officers' union on whether it supports the new policies.
"Contraband is a persistent problem in prisons, and cracking down on it protects both staff and inmate safety," Mailey's statement continued.
"The majority of staff come to work, do a great job, and do not intentionally introduce contraband into our facilities, however, we have had instances where such misconduct has occurred."
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