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AG prison report cites human, technology errors as prime cause of inmate escape

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette
Photo courtesy of Michigan's Attorney General office
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette

A report by the Michigan Attorney General's office has found both human and technology failures played a part in the prison escape of a convicted murderer.

Michael Elliot slipped out of the Ionia Correctional Facility last February 2 by crawling under fences during a heavy snowfall. He wore white clothes to blend into the snow. He was captured about 24 hours later in Indiana.

After getting out of the prison, Elliot waylaid and kidnapped a motorist, who escaped by locking herself in a service station restroom.

The state Department of Corrections conducted its own review, but Governor Rick Snyder asked Attorney General Bill Schuette to conduct an independent investigation. That inquiry found multiple errors. For example, a command center was under-staffed while some officers attended and cleaned up after a Super Bowl potluck dinner.

Elliot is serving a sentence of life with no chance at parole for four murders committed in 1993.

From the report:

“The findings outlined in this report lead to an undeniable conclusion: technology and personnel failures lead to Elliot’s escape. There was a serious breakdown in the security measures at ICF. Staff inattentiveness and failure to comply with security policies and procedures played a significant role in Elliot’s escape.”

The report makes 12 specific recommendations including surveillance system upgrades, more frequent prisoner counts, and, perhaps, more regular perimeter patrols and putting more armed guards in prison towers.

Regular perimeter patrols and beefed-up staffing in guard towers were among the Snyder administration’s cost-cutting measures opposed by the Michigan Corrections Organization, the union representing corrections officers. The Department of Corrections said reducing those would not have an effect on safety.

Corrections department spokesman Russ Marlan said the Attorney General’s recommendations are under review.

“Our position is we must run safe and secure prisons,” said Marlan. “We welcome any and all suggestions.”  

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.