A prison escape or prison break is where a prisoner leaves their prison through unofficial or illegal ways, while an effort is made to recapture them by their original detainers.
The terms jailbreak and prison break are not used in law. For example, In New York State
Article 205 of the Penal Law refers to: ESCAPE AND OTHER OFFENSES RELATING TO CUSTODY. The code differentiates escape from a "Detention Facility" from the lesser escape from custody. Absconding
(not voluntarily returning from being temporary released), resisting arrest
, hindering prosecution (assisting an escapee) and even contraband
related offenses are also covered in the same section of law
Friends or relatives of an inmate arrange for items to be smuggled into the prison or arrange to have an escape vehicle standing by, ready to receive the prisoner when they reach the outside of the compound. Because prisoners' mail, gifts and communications are usually monitored it can be difficult to ensure this sort of assistance.
Inside assistance: Most prison escapes require assistance from people inside the prison; usually from fellow inmates but it's possible for corrupted guards or other prison officials to help an inmate escape, typically through turning a blind eye to 'anomalies' or sabotage. It is more difficult for officials to monitor this form of assistance, since communication between inmates and their guards is routine in most prison facilities.
In some jurisdictions, such as most U.S. states
, escape from jail or prison is a criminal offense. In Virginia, for instance, the punishment for escape depends on whether the offender escaped by using force or violence or setting fire
to the jail, and the seriousness of the offense for which they were imprisoned. In other jurisdictions, the philosophy of the law
holds that it is human nature to want to escape. In Mexico
, for instance, escapees who do not break any other laws are not charged for anything and no extra time is added to their sentence; however, guards are allowed to shoot prisoners attempting to escape. In Mexico, an escape is illegal if violence is used against prison personnel or property or if prison inmates or officials aid the escape.
Famous historical escapes
There have been many famous escapes throughout history.
- Jack Sheppard escaped from prison several times in 1724, using elaborate planning, and careful noting of the time that guards patrolled certain areas. Sheppard was eventually caught and hanged.
- In 1756, Italian writer Giacomo Casanova famously managed to escape from one of the most secure prisons of his time: the Doge's Palace.
- During the U.S. Civil War, the Libby Prison Escape occurred on 10 February 1864, when 109 Union officers escaped from Libby Prison, a Confederate POW camp in Richmond, Virginia. Fifty-nine of the escapees succeeded in making it back through Federal lines.
- German Naval Air Service Kapitänleutnant Gunter Plüschow escaped from the Donington Hall prisoner of war camp in 1915.
- John Dillinger served time at the Indiana State Penitentiary at Michigan City, until 1933, when he was paroled. Within four months, he was back in jail in Lima, Ohio, but the gang sprang him, killing the jailer, Sheriff Jessie Sarber. Most of the gang was captured again by the end of the year in Tucson, Arizona, due to a fire at the Historic Hotel Congress. Dillinger alone was sent to the Lake County jail in Crown Point, Indiana. He was to face trial for the suspected killing of police officer William O'Malley during a bank shootout in East Chicago, Indiana, some time after his escape from jail. During this time on trial, the famous photograph was taken of Dillinger putting his arm on prosecutor Robert Estill's shoulder when suggested to him by reporters.
- On March 3, 1934, Dillinger escaped from the "escape-proof" (as it was dubbed by local authorities at the time) Crown Point, Indiana county jail, which was guarded by many police officers and national guardsmen. Newspapers reported that Dillinger had escaped using a fake gun made from wood blackened with shoe polish.
- Japanese murderer Yoshie Shiratori had broken prisons four times between 1930s and 1940s. A novel and TV-drama Hagoku was based on his true story.
- The Great Escape, 76 Allied POWs (primarily Commonwealth airmen) escaped from Stalag Luft III during World War Two. Fifty of the escaped POWs were rounded up and shot by the Gestapo, while only 3 succeeded in reaching neutral territories.
- Colditz Castle was used as an 'escape-proof' prisoner of war camp during World War II; but over the course of 300 escape attempts, 130 prisoners escaped. Thirty escapees eventually managed to reach friendly territory. The men had tunneled, disguised themselves as guards, workmen or women, sneaked away through sewer drains, and even planned to use a glider to get over the wall. (Further research has proven that the glider attempt would almost certainly have been successful, but the war ended before it was to be put into action. By this time, the glider had been fully assembled.)
- André Devigny, a French resistance fighter during World War II, escaped Montluc Military Prison in Lyon with his cellmate in April 1943.
- Accused safe cracker Alfie Hinds tried to proclaim his innocence by repeatedly walking out of prison. He became famous for escaping from Nottingham Prison after sneaking through the locked doors and over a 20-foot prison wall, for which he became known as "Houdini" Hinds. He later escaped from the Law Courts at the Old Bailey. Escorted by two guards, he went to the lavatory, where they removed his handcuffs outside. Once inside, Hinds bundled the handcuffs and snapped the padlock onto screw eyes inserted on the door by his unknown accomplices and escaped into the crowd on Fleet Street. Hinds sealed his notoriety by making a third escape from Chelmsford Prison.
- Frank Morris, John Anglin and Clarence Anglin escaped from 'inescapable' Alcatraz Island in 1962; although the fate of the escapees is unclear.
- The escape of Lucien Rivard in Canada in 1965. Rivard was consequently named the Canadian Newsmaker of the Year by the Canadian Press.
- Soviet spy George Blake escaped from Wormwood Scrubs on 22 October 1966, assisted by Pat Pottle, Michael Randle and Sean Bourke. Both Blake and Bourke reached the safety of the Soviet Union.
- Before being sentenced to 12 years in the Federal Corrections Institution at Petersburg, Virginia in April 1971, Frank W. Abagnale is said to have escaped from both a British VC-10 airliner, and the Federal Detention Center in Atlanta, Georgia. His autobiography was later adapted to the screen for the 2002 release of Catch Me If You Can, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
- In 1973, three Provisional Irish Republican Army prisoners escaped in the Mountjoy Prison helicopter escape, when a hijacked helicopter landed in the exercise yard at Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, Republic of Ireland.
- Serial killer Ted Bundy escaped twice in 1977.
- In December 1979, political prisoners Tim Jenkin, Stephen Lee and Alex Moumbaris escaped from South Africa's maximum-security Pretoria Prison. After 18 months of plotting, testing, preparing, and learning how to pick locks and forge keys, the trio escaped the prison the same way they came in: through 10 locked doors.
- In the Maze Prison escape on 25 September 1983, 38 Provisional Irish Republican Army members escaped from HMP Maze in Northern Ireland, the biggest prison escape in British history.
- In 1984, six death row inmates escaped Mecklenburg Correctional Center, making it the largest mass death row escape in American history. All were recaptured within 18 days, and all six men would eventually be executed. The final execution took place in 1996.
- Claude Dallas escaped from a penitentiary in Idaho in 1986 and spent a year on the run.
- Danny Ray Horning escaped from the Arizona State Prison in Florence, Arizona on May 12, 1992, and a 55-day manhunt ensued as Horning fled the authorities. The pursuit ended on July 5, 1992, near Sedona, Arizona. Horning led authorities hundreds of miles through the Arizona wilderness, and committed numerous kidnappings during the manhunt.
- In August 1996, Englishman David McMillan escaped from Thailand’s Klong Prem prison, sometimes called the Bangkok Hilton by the press, while awaiting trial on drug charges. McMillan cut the bars of his shared cell, scaled four walls before dropping over the electrified outer wall using a bamboo ladder, and then skirted the moat while hiding his face under an umbrella from the prison factory. The break-out is described in ESCAPE (published 2007).
- In September 1994, 6 prisoners, including Paul Magee, used guns to escape Whitemoor (HM Prison). They were later recaptured.
- In 1998, the Belgian child molester Marc Dutroux notoriously managed to escape for a few hours due to an embarrassing series of events. He was caught the same afternoon, but the incident forced two politicians to resign and deepened the loss of faith in the Belgian judicial system.
- Martin Gurule escaped from Texas Death Row in 1998. He was found dead a few days later.
- In March 1999, Lucy Dudko hijacked a helicopter during a joy-flight over Sydney and ordered the pilot to land inside Silverwater Jail where her lover, John Killick, was serving 28 years for armed robberies. The helicopter plucked Killick from the prison's exercise yard and avoided a shower of bullets fired by prison guards. The couple then went on the run, eluding police around the country until their luck ran out in a Sydney caravan park six weeks later.
- The Texas 7 escaped on December 13, 2000. Six of them were captured after over a month and a half on the run, the 7th killed himself before being captured.
- In New York, two convicted murders escaped from Elmira State Penitentiary in July 2003, both recaptured in 2 days.
- Brian Nichols on March 11, 2005 escaped from the Fulton County courthouse in Atlanta, by overpowering an officer and taking her pistol. He then murdered a judge, a court reporter, a police officer and US Customs Agent. He then held a woman named Ashley Smith hostage for a night in her own home, before he allowed her to leave to visit her daughter. Once she was released, she called the police, and he surrendered peacefully to SWAT officers who arrived on the scene.
- In 1999, Leslie Dale Martin and three other inmates on Louisiana's death row escaped from their cells at the Louisiana State Peniteniary. They were caught within hours before they even managed to escape prison grounds. The four men had managed the escape with the use of hacksaws that had been smuggled in for them by a bribed corrections officer. Other corrections officers were inattentive to the inmates' two to three week effort at cutting their cell doors and window. After the escape, two corrections officers were fired and two others were demoted. Martin was later overheard by two corrections officers plotting another escape, which included taking hostages and commandeering a vehicle to ram the prison's front gates. Martin was immediately moved to the holding cell outside the Death Chamber, a month before his execution in 2002.
- On November 4, 2005, Texas Death Row Inmate Charles Victor Thompson escaped from the Harris County Jail by acquiring a set of street clothes and pretending to be a representative from the State Attorney General's office to fool the corrections officers. He was recaptured two days later in Shreveport, Louisiana, 200 miles from where he escaped.
- Ralph "Bucky" Phillips escaped from prison on April 2, 2006, in New York, by cutting through the ceiling in the kitchen with a can opener. On June 10 he was suspected of a shooting which ended with two troopers dead. Bucky was later caught in Warren County, Pennsylvania, on September 8, 2006, his escape led police on the largest manhunt in New York state history.
- Richard Lee McNair has escaped from custody three times, including from a federal maximum-security prison in April 2006. He was recaptured by the RCMP on October 25, 2007 in Campbellton, New Brunswick, when he was stopped while driving a stolen vehicle.
- Kelly Allen Frank (who had plotted to kidnap the infant son of talk-show host David Letterman) and William John Willcutt escaped from a Montana prison on June 8, 2007. Both were recaptured on June 13, 2007.
- Twenty-eight prisoners escaped from a prison in Dendermonde, Belgium on August 20, 2007. Six were recaptured the day after.
- On December 15, 2007 inmates Jose Espinosa and Otis Blunt escaped from the high-security level of the Union County jail in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Espinosa was awaiting sentencing on an aggravated manslaughter charge, while Blunt was being held in lieu of bond on robbery and weapons charges. They escaped by scraping away the mortar around the cinder blocks making up the cell walls. They then smashed the block, hid the pieces in a footlocker and covered the holes with pin-up pictures. To delay knowledge of the escape, they made dummies out of sheets and pillowcases and left them in their beds. Espinosa was recaptured on Tuesday, January 8, 2008. Blunt was recaptured the following day Wednesday, January 9, 2008 in Mexico City, Mexico.
- Sarposa Prison attack; a raid on the Kandahar detention facility in Kandahar, Afghanistan by Taliban insurgents on June 13, 2008. One of the largest attacks by Afghan insurgents, the raid freed 400-1000 prisoners.
- Eight inmates charged with violent crimes escaped from the Curry County Adult Detention Center in Clovis, New Mexico on August 24, 2008. The eight men escaped by climbing prison pipes in a narrow space inside a wall, then using homemade instruments to cut a hole in the roof. The jailbreak was featured on a September 6 episode of America's Most Wanted. Four inmates remain at large as of mid-September, including a convicted killer and a man charged with murder.
Escapes in popular culture
- Escape from Alcatraz depicts the escape of Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers.
- The Great Escape involves the prisoners of a German prisoner of war camp digging their way to freedom from under a hut.
- ESCAPE autobiographical book telling of the only Western prisoner to have escaped from the ‘Bangkok Hilton’. In the mid 1990s, David McMillan broke out of Thailand’s Klong Prem prison and fled to Singapore undetected and Pakistan before reaching Europe. ESCAPE was first published in Asia 2007.
- The Wooden Horse also prisoners of a German prisoner of war camp who dug from underneath a vaulting horse
- Colditz based on the true story, depicts the fate of many imprisoned at Colditz Castle during World War II.
- My escape from Donington Hall by Kapitänleutnant Gunther Plueschow, of the German Airservice; published by John Lane the Bodly Head Ldt., London , 1922 ; autobiographical book telling the story of (full title) : My escape from Donington Hall preceded by an account of the siege of Kiao - Chow in 1915.
- Le Trou, a 1960 film by Jacques Becker, depicts the escape of five French prisoners from La Santé Prison in 1947.
- The Count of Monte Cristo depicts protagonist Edmond Dantès's falsified arrest and internment, years of isolation and finally recruitment into an escape from prison to exact revenge on his captors.
- The TV show Prison Break revolves around a complicated escape plan and the nationwide manhunt.
- The Shawshank Redemption from an American prison.
- Papillon French man escaping from island jails, based on real life.
- In Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent, Sam Fisher escapes prison with JBA member Jamie Washington.
- In Oz inmates Miguel Alvarez and Agamemnon Busmalis escape from the prison. Eventually both are apprehended by authorities.
- In the 1953 movie Stalag 17, attempts to escape the prison fail because of a spy.
- In the show, made movie, The Fugitive, Dr. Richard Kimble is mistakenly accused of his wife's murder. He escapes along with another inmate when their transport crashes.
- The movie U.S. Marshals revolves around a prison escapee and his mistaken conviction of his crime.
- The Harry Potter novel Prisoner of Azkaban depicts the manhunt of a wizard who escaped the magical community's version of Alkatraz (Azkaban).
- Dowswell, Paul (1994). Tales of Real Escape. London, England: Usborne Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-7460-1669-7.
- McMillan, David (2007). Escape. Singapore: Monsoon Books. ISBN 9789810575687.