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Gallivan expects two Senate panels to hold hearings on prison escape at Dannemora

ALBANY – The State Senate expects two committees, one with subpoena power, to hold hearings this fall about the escape of two convicted murderers from Clinton Correctional Facility.

Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan, R-Elma, said his Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Correction expects to hold joint hearings with the Committee on Investigations and Government Operations, which possesses subpoena power.

“The reason is just to have it, not necessarily that we need it,” Gallivan said. “But if, for some reason, the administration or executive branch would not want to cooperate with what we do, the subpoena power will compel testimony.”

Gallivan said the hearings will examine several basic questions: “How did this happen? Why did it happen? And how do we prevent it from happening again?”

Among the areas expected to be focused on is staffing levels at the maximum-security prison in Dannemora and other state prisons, Gallivan said. The Cuomo administration has said guard-to-inmate staffing ratios are higher than they have been.

But Gallivan said state prison staffing levels have been raised in each of the last five years during annual budget hearings in Albany.

“Just because there is a better staffing ratio doesn’t mean it is adequate,” said Galllivan, a former Erie County sheriff.

Lawmakers want to find out why two guard towers at Clinton were left unstaffed during certain periods, Gallivan said.

“At least one of those towers had a direct sight of the manhole where they came out,” the lawmaker said of Richard W. Matt and David P. Sweat and their final escape point June 6.

The Senate hearings won’t likely be held until the fall in order to give time for the criminal investigation by law enforcement agencies and local prosecutors to be completed.

Gallivan said he is not yet calling for an independent investigation of the escape. There has been some push for an outside probe to look into the escape, instead of having the governor’s inspector general handle it.

“We don’t know that the IG can’t do it properly,” Gallivan said.

Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell, D-Manhattan, chairman of the Assembly’s Correction Committee, said that it is “premature” for criticism of the IG investigation.

O’Donnell added, however, that the internal Inspector General’s Office within the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision needs to be disbanded.

The assemblyman said he is concerned about reports that the internal IG’s Office looked into a possible inappropriate personal relationship between one of the escapees and Joyce E. Mitchell, 51, the prison worker who was recently arrested on charges of aiding in the breakout, and “did nothing about it.”

The simplest response, O’Donnell said, would have been to transfer the inmate. “There are actions that could have been taken to prevent this,” he said.