Mich. AG urges changes after prison break

FILE- This file photo shows Michael Elliot, who was arrested Monday, Feb. 3, 2014 in LaPorte County, Ind., more than 150 miles from the Ionia, Mich., Correctional Facility where he escaped from on Feb. 2. (AP Photo/LaPorte County Sheriff's Office)
FILE- This file photo shows Michael Elliot, who was arrested Monday, Feb. 3, 2014 in LaPorte County, Ind., more than 150 miles from the Ionia, Mich., Correctional Facility where he escaped from on Feb. 2. (AP Photo/LaPorte County Sheriff's Office)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s attorney general on Monday recommended numerous improvements in prison security and said the state should consider possibly reversing money-saving moves in the wake of a convicted quadruple murderer’s escape.

Bill Schuette, who was asked to conduct an independent probe by Gov. Rick Snyder, blamed Michael Elliot’s 24-hour escape on problems with video surveillance, fences, motion detectors and prisoner counts, along with a “dereliction of duties” by control center officers and failures by management at the Ionia Correctional Facility.

Many findings echoed those released by the Corrections Department’s internal investigators a month after the February escape. But Schuette also urged prison officials to reconsider whether to station armed guards in towers and if perimeter patrols should again be full-time jobs that aren’t folded into officers’ other duties.

Democrats have questioned whether cuts backed by Snyder and Republican lawmakers factored into theescape — a charge previously denied by Corrections Director Dan Heyns.

Schuette, a Republican, said he couldn’t “conclusively determine” if the spending reductions played a role, noting that the only guard tower with a view of a vehicle gate Elliot pried open with scissors and a belt buckle wouldn’t have been operational anyway on the day he escaped. Yet the attorney general said there have been two escape attempts at the Ionia prison since the elimination of five observation towers a year ago.

“This raises at least the question of whether armed staff positioned in the guard towers has a significant deterrent effect,” the report said.

Schuette said an officer patrolled the prison perimeter in a vehicle three times during the escape, but it was difficult to see Elliot, whose white thermal underwear helped him blend into snow piles.

The Michigan Corrections Organization, a union representing nearly 7,000 officers and other prison workers, said Schuette’s recommendations echo what it has urged for years: “Staff the gun towers to deter escapesand prevent the introduction of contraband; restore the full-time perimeter security patrols; and treat inmates serving life sentences as the security threat that they are.”

Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said the agency reviewed tower and perimeter patrols after the escapeand decided against changes because wardens had suggested they didn’t yield enough “return on investment.” The agency, which will review the independent report, is following through on a security action plan unveiled in March, he said.

Schuette also recommended that inmates no longer be allowed to buy hobby scissors and other items that can be fashioned into a weapon or escape tool.

“The greater focus on this, the more input we get from various sources — that can help us create a safer and more secure corrections system,” Marlan said.

About $11 million in security enhancements are underway and more than $42 million in lighting, camera and other upgrades are planned, he said.

Elliot, 41, is serving life without parole for the fatal shootings of four people in 1993 in what authorities say was an attempt to steal money from a drug dealer. An accomplice says he pulled the trigger and Elliot played no part.

Elliot was captured in LaPorte County, Indiana.

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