AG releases report on Ionia prison escape

 Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has released his Department’s independent report on the escape of convicted murderer Michael David Elliot from the Ionia Correctional Facility on Superbowl Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014. 

Attorney General staff reviewed current facility operations and policies, photographs and videos of the incident, MDOC staff interviews and incident reports. In addition, AG staff conducted interviews with Elliot, other inmates, MDOC staff, and made site visits.  More than 1,000 pages of documents were reviewed during the course of the independent investigation.  A national expert with 37 years of corrections management was also retained.

“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...will help ensure dangerous felons remain locked up where they belong.” 

Six Technology and Personnel Failures
The report highlights the following six critical security failures:

1. PIRAMID Microwave Alert System Failure: There was a complete breakdown in the effectiveness of this alert system due to officer inattention and error and a failure to ensure the entire system was operational and aligned to detect human intrusion. 

2. Video Surveillance Failure: There was a significant breakdown in the effectiveness of the prison’s video surveillance system due to inattentiveness of the officer responsible for monitoring the video feed and the failure to follow the staffing policy in the Control Center.

3. E-Flex Wire Alarm System Failure: The failure to keep the E-Flex wire alarm system operational, which is contained in an interior fence, contributed to Elliot’s escape.

4. Prisoner Count Procedure Failure: The formal count procedures were inadequate and staff failed to follow informal count procedures. Both of these factors contributed to Elliot’s escape.

5. Fencing System Failure: Structural weaknesses were a significant contributing factor in Elliot’s escape.
6. Security System Failure and Personnel Error and Inattention: To date, all available information indicates that Elliot acted alone in the escape, but was able to capitalize on officer inattention, officer error, and weaknesses in the ICF security system. 

Twelve Recommendations
1. PIRAMID Microwave Intrusion Alert System: The PIRAMID microwave intrusion alert system must be modified to include an additional audible alarm that continuously alerts the monitor room officer that a zone is not reactivated. MDOC must ensure facility compliance with established policies respecting maintenance and inspection of security measures and, in particular, the regular inspection of all microwave and motion sensors for the PIRAMID system. 

2. Video Surveillance: MDOC must change the manner in which the video system operates.  The cameras present an image in full screen in the Monitor Room, which remains the same until the officer switches to another camera.  The system must be replaced with a system in which each camera feeds to a monitor for a specific designated time, enabling the feeds to be viewed for a pre-determined time. 

3. E-Flex Wire Alarm System: The E-Flex wire alarm system contained in the interior slow-down fence must be restored to operation as it is the first structural line of defense.

4. Prison Count Procedure: MDOC and ICF must sufficiently train staff and confirm that policy is being adhered to as to appropriate use of existing formal and informal prisoner count procedures.  MDOC must determine whether the number of formal prisoner counts should change to prevent an eight-hour lapse between counts.

5. Fencing System:  All slow-down fences must be inspected and repaired to ensure that there are no gaps or structural weaknesses.  It is also recommended that slow-down fences be established that would limit inmate movement to areas that are within the observation of the assigned yard officer.  The sally port gate fencing must be firmly secured to its frame to prevent the unraveling of the chain-link fabric.

6. Manning Guard Towers: MDOC must reconsider whether to station armed officers in the guard towers to achieve a deterrent effect on prisoners considering escape.

7. Perimeter Patrol: MDOC must consider restoring the perimeter patrol by an armed officer full time, rather than as a collateral duty of the front lobby officer, especially if the guard towers are not manned. 

8. Training and Management: MDOC must ensure regular training of officers with respect to duties of the Control Center, including the critical duties performed by the officer in the Monitor Room. Manage-
ment must assure performance of these duties, as well as consider implementing techniques, such as time limits and rotation, to ensure that officers watching monitor screens remain alert.

9. Snow Removal: MDOC must reevaluate snow removal strategies in order to reduce visual obstructions.

10. Clothing Policy: MDOC must reevaluate issuing prison clothing usable as camouflage in the natural environment. 

11. Prisoner Security Classification:  MDOC must reevaluate their classification process about whether an inmate serving life without parole should ever be classed lower security Level II.  At the least, MDOC must incorporate a procedure where inmates serving life without parole require a higher degree of supervision.

12. Prisoner Purchase Policy: MDOC must reconsider policy allowing inmates to purchase hobby scissors and other like items that can be fashioned into a weapon or an escape tool.  Rather, MDOC must consider a policy that may allow prisoners to use these items, but requires their return so that an accounting can be made.  

The full text of the Attorney General’s report is at: