AG report suggests changes after prisoner escape

LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette released the results of his department's investigation into Michael Elliot's February 2, 2014 escape from the Ionia Correctional Facility. The report lists six technology and personnel failures and makes twelve recommendations to prevent any further escapes from the facility.

Schuette's investigation involved reviewing current facility operations and policies, photographs and videos of the escape, interviews with Elliot, other inmates and MDOC staff and facility site visits.

“We have conducted a complete and thorough investigation that revealed critical technology failures and personnel failures in security,” said Schuette.  “Prisons are built to keep dangerous criminals locked away from society, but in this case a violent murderer escaped.  The recommendations contained in this report will help ensure dangerous felons remain locked up where they belong.”

The six critical failures include:

  1. Piramid microwave alert system failure - The Passive InfraRed And Microwave Intruder Detection system was not reset after a test in the afternoon and in one section of the facility, the sensors were misaligned. In addition, officers and management didn't make sure the system was working properly and did not follow proper security procedures.

  2. Video surveillance failure - The video surveillance failures were due to officer inattentiveness and violations of policy manning the control room

  3. E-Flex wire alarm system failure - This system on the slow-down fence has not been operational for seven years.

  4. Prisoner count procedure failure - The report shows informal counts were not conducted regularly. Elliot was counted at the formal count at 1:25 p.m., but the next formal count wasn't until 9:15 p.m.

  5. Fencing system failure - There were two structural weaknesses - one in the slow-down fence and one in the sally port gates. There was a large gap under the slow-down fence that allowed Elliot to crawl under the fence. The sally port gates were not firmly anchored or sealed to the bottom frame, allowing the fence to be unraveled.

  6. Security system failure and personnel error and inattention - Guard/observation towers have not been manned since July 2013. Routine perimeter patrols by armed staff are conducted, but failed to detect Elliot's escape. Overall, Elliot exploited weaknesses in the security system and officer inattention and errors contributed to his ability to evade detection.

The report makes the following recommendations.

  1. The PIRAMID microwave intrusion alert system must be modified so the audible alarm that alerts officers zones are not activated cannot be deactivated.

  2. Video surveillance should be modified so the different camera angles automatically change in the monitor at predetermined intervals so all cameras can be viewed.

  3. The E-Flex wire alarm system should be restored to operation.

  4. Staff must be trained to conduct formal and informal counts according to policy. The policy should be reviewed to make sure there is not an eight hour gap between formal counts.

  5. All slow-down fences should be inspected and repaired and the sally port fencing must be secured to its frame properly.

  6. MDOC must consider putting officers in the guard towers as a deterrent to escape attempts

  7. The MDOC should consider restoring the perimeter patrol by an armed officer to a full-time position instead of having the front lobby officer conduct those checks.

  8. MDOC must make sure there is regular training about the duties in the control center and the monitor room.

  9. The MDOC should reevaluate snow removal strategies to reduce visual obstructions.

  10. The MDOC should reconsider issuing clothing that can be used as camouflage in the natural environment.

  11. The MDOC should reconsider how prisoners serving life sentences are classified. Elliot was classified as lower security Level II but was sentenced to four life sentences. The MDOC should consider a higher level of security for those serving life without parole.

  12. The MDOC should also reconsider whether prisoners should be allowed to purchase hobby scissors and similar items that can be made into a weapon. The MDOC could allow prisoners use of the items, but could require them to be returned.

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