New York State Police Continue Search for Escaped Inmates

Our attention may soon turn to another enormous, perplexing escape — this time in New York. Three convicts have been on the run since Friday morning, when two were escaped from an adult-entertainment and legal-services facility in Attica, and one from the maximum-security Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora.

The Albany Times Union reported that corrections officers at Attica called Clinton Correctional in 2016 to report that the inmates were using prison phones. No one took them seriously.

Clinton Prison is as tough as they come. The escapees could kill two, possibly more, and still be in the clear — and, after all, they reportedly left behind a few bags of cigarettes.

On the other hand, the contraband wasn’t even worth it, in terms of the physical space of the grounds: The inmates would be out of sight if they stayed at Attica; at Clinton, they’d have to get around guards, and they’d still be out of view if they remained behind the iron bars.

You might think that escapees should be caught immediately. But even if they hadn’t committed the crime of escape, they’d probably be caught anyway, by someone with a badge and a gun.

This isn’t a perfect situation — it’s tempting to comfort ourselves with the thought that, if the escapees had been nicer, they wouldn’t have succeeded. But that ignores basic social rules.

And even if you start granting that escapees are exempt from some of our usual conventions, prison officials aren’t among those whom they must obey.

In this case, everyone seems concerned about the fact that no one notified authorities until after the men had escaped. (Do the mechanics, too, do that? If so, that’s the carpenter.)

“Officers involved have been counseled,” said New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision director Ellen Biben, “and there will be a review of procedures.”

Of course, how much review, or consequences, will be forthcoming depends on who you ask. The head of the prison guards’ union, Paul Cullen, was quick to claim that “no corrections officers in the Attica facility were involved in this incident.”

Kudos to Cullen for living up to his usual credo. But it’s easy to understand how prison guards might say that. With any luck, his insistence that he, at least, had nothing to do with this situation — and that the escapees had got the upper hand, with a lot of cover and without proper authority to hide from them — will silence demands that his union take the high road.

Until then, this is likely to stay with us.

Just as the people who kept quiet after a white supremacist shot up Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., or after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, deserve thanks, so too should people’s refusal to think beyond their more immediate needs, even if their decisions have consequences.