2002-08-21 / Editorials


Escapes Bring Folklore To Life
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains All the jails are made of tin And you can walk right out again

Escapes Bring Folklore To Life
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains All the jails are made of tin And you can walk right out again

Just as soon as you go in.

The song "Big Rock Candy Mountains" is a part of American folklore. It depicts a hobo's fantasy—a place "where a bum can stay for many a day and he won't need any money." It's a pleasant enough little fairy tale for adults who would like to get away from it all.

It's not so funny when some elements of the Big Rock Candy Mountains actually exist, especially the tin jails. During the past two months, 23 people have escaped New York City Police or state Corrections Department custody. Most were recaptured within hours, but Luis Acosta, an alleged serial rapist, pried his way out of a locked interrogation room at a precinct house in The Bronx in May and as of press time, was still at large.

The Police Department has set up a task force and taken other measures to address the problem. What the Corrections Department is doing to remedy its particular situation in which a 23-year-old man on cleanup duty at the Queensboro Correctional Facility in Sunnyside was able to walk away from custody is unknown to us.

The fugitive from the Queensboro facility, one Steven Alensky, was later recaptured at his home in Lindenhurst, Long Island. He had been returned to prison following a second parole violation on a stolen property conviction and now faces having more time added to his sentence, which he will serve in a maximum security prison.

Alensky's case illustrates the paradox attendant upon the system presently in place. Alensky will serve a lengthened sentence in harsher conditions than those found at the Queensboro Correctional Facility, not that the Sunnyside institution is exactly a resort. All escapees except Acosta were recaptured, some within hours. But in order to be recaptured an escapee first must be found. And every time a prisoner escapes the inevitable question arises: how did this happen and how can we ensure it does not happen again?

The Police Department has demonstrated its capabilities in this regard on many occasions and we're sure we'll see the same results this time. The Corrections Department doubtless has plans in place to preclude another episode like that of Alensky. But we note that even one escaped prisoner—especially a malefactor such as Acosta—is a serious threat to the safety and well being of the citizens of New York City.

The city has faced an average of 35 escapes a year for the past several years. The 23 escapes of the past few months are a statistical aberration. That is scant comfort to those who face the peril of an escaped criminal resuming his or her career path or bodily harm because they found themselves in the midst of a pursuit. However they got to the street, escaped prisoners are a threat to everyone.

Whatever precautions need to be taken and whatever procedures need to be put in place should be instituted with all possible speed. Escape artist Harry Houdini's time has come and gone. There is no reason why we should face danger at the hands of his would-be imitators.

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