Corrections chief answers prison break concerns

Michigan Department of Corrections Director Dan Heyns. (Feb. 13, 2014)

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — State Corrections Director Dan Heyns was on the hot seat Thursday morning, as members of a Michigan Senate sub-committee questioned the prison chief about Michael Elliot’s Feb. 2 escape form the Ionia Correctional Facility.

“I own this escape,” Heyns said. “It’s my responsibility.”

Elliot managed to get out of prison, carjack an Ionia woman, and make a short-lived escape to Indiana.

Heyns said he’s ordered reviews of everything from security plans, to maintenance of fencing and other barriers, to snow removal around Michigan’s 31 prisons in the wake of the escape.

Heyns suggested equipment, like surveillance cameras and sensors on fences put in place to stop escapes, appeared to be in order at the correctional facility the night Elliot escaped.

But he said there has to be some vigilance to make that equipment effective.

“I don’t know when the human complacency factor weighed in here in Ionia,” Heyns told the committee. “I think it had been down for some time.”

That belief has drawn the ire of the union representing the corrections officer who was suspended in the wake of the escape.

A supervisor is also on suspension.

“I’ve been out to the prison three or four times. The union’s involved in their own investigation with their legal team,” Michigan Corrections Organization President Tom Tylutki said.

The union continues to blame budget cuts, resulting in an empty guard tower, for the escape.

“We still feel to this day after reviewing all the facts and being at the prison on several occasions, that the gun towers played a role in this,” Tylutki said.

But Heyns said the empty guard tower is not an excuse.

“There should have been multiple systems that caught him long before he got to that fence,” Heyns said.

The Michigan Department of Corrections, along with the governor and the attorney general, are conducting investigations into the prison break.

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