Recent headlines have been dominated by the escape of convicted killers Richard Matt and David Sweat from an upstate New York prison.
Matt and Sweat’s escape was discovered during an early morning bed check at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora.
In order to make their escape, they slipped through holes and used power tools to cut into a steel plate and a steam pipe, before they got out of the prison through a manhole and onto the street.
The escape was compared to that in the famous jailbreak movie The Shawshank Redemption, but authorities allege a staff member aided them.
CNN reported on the arrest of jail worker Joyce Mitchell who is accused of supplying tools to the inmates that helped them make their escape. “The defendant did intentionally … and unlawfully introduce hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch and a screwdriver bit, dangerous contraband, into Clinton Correctional Facility,” court records said.
She was arraigned on a felony charge of promoting prison contraband and a misdemeanor charge of criminal facilitation. Mitchell pleaded not guilty. If convicted, she faces up to eight years behind bars.
The jailbreak made headlines because of the serious nature of the offenders’ crimes as well as the long time they were on the run.
Although real jailbreaks are seldom as dramatic as those on TV, here are five of the most high profile escapes of the last century.
1 – Escape from Alcatraz
Inmates Frank Lee Morris and Clarence and John Anglin broke out of Alcatraz, the notorious island prison near San Francisco known as “the Rock” in June 1962.
They made their escape by trying to float to freedom on makeshift rafts, but authorities say they almost surely died in the cold water. The escape was made famous in the film Escape from Alcatraz, starring Clint Eastwood.
2 – Escape from New Jersey
Black Liberation Army leader and convicted cop killer Joanne Chesimard successfully broke out of the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton, New Jersey, in 1979 with the help of armed members of her group. They drove a van into the prison and then took her out. She escaped to Cuba.
3 – Con Man Escapes
In 1971 infamous con man Frank Abagnale escaped from the Federal Detention Center in Atlanta, Georgia in 1971 by telling guards he was a prison inspector.
Abagnale worked with an accomplice on the outside to convince the guards at the jail he was actually an undercover prison inspector posing as an inmate who was spying on the guards. In the early 1970s when prisons were being widely condemned by civil rights groups and congressional committees were investigating the stories of abuse.
4 – Seven Escape in Texas
Texas saw one of the biggest prisons breaks in recent history in December 2000 when seven inmates forced their way out of maximum-security prison John B. Connally Unit in the isolated town of Kenedy. George Rivas who was serving 18 consecutive life sentences for burglary and kidnapping led the escapers. Seven men overpowered two guards and eight maintenance men and took their clothes and keys to a truck and locked the men in a utility closet. They tricked other guards into letting them take weapons from one of the watchtowers before tying them up and fleeing in a truck.
The Texas 7, were only captured after going on crimes spree from Dallas to San Antonio and killing a police officer in Irving, Texas.
5 – Canadian Helicopter Escape
In 2013, two Canadian inmates who got out of prison by grabbing a rope attached to a hovering helicopter. Benjamin Hudon-Barbeau and Danny Provencal escaped from St-Jerome prison near Montreal, Canada. Accomplices had hijacked the helicopter and forced the pilot to land on the roof of the detention center. Both inmates were captured soon afterwards.
Despite these high profile cases, prison escapes are rare. There are about 1,500 medium- and maximum-security facilities in the US, and only 50 people manage to flee each year, according to Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News.
Many escapes occur when inmates form relationships with staff. Helping a prisoner to escape can carry a very heavy penalty but prison workers can often be manipulated into relationships with prisoners.
“Immersed in a world of inmates who can be excellent manipulators, some prison workers wind up doing inappropriate things for them out of compassion, greed, or romantic attraction, experts say. Other staffers are swayed by inmates’ threats to harm their loved ones or expose the workers for breaking a rule,” wrote Associated Press.