A New York state prison employee charged with helping a pair of convicted murderers carry out an elaborate escape has been moved from a cell in the facility where she worked to a county jail 150 miles away, authorities said.
Joyce Mitchell was transferred from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, where she worked as an industrial training supervisor, to Rensselaer County Jail near Albany.
She was moved Saturday as the massive manhunt for the two inmates entered its eighth day. More than 800 local, state and federal officers are searching thick woods, homes and other outposts near the maximum security facility, 20 miles south of the Canadian border, New York State Police said.
Prosecutors allege Mitchell facilitated the escape by providing Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, with tools such as chisels and hacksaw blades.
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She was arraigned Friday on two counts of promoting prison contraband and criminal facilitation. She pleaded not guilty and faces up to eight years in prison if convicted.
The Clinton County Sheriff's office said Mitchell was transferred to reduce tensions within the prison where she worked and in the surrounding village. Most of the families who live nearby have at least one member who is employed at the fortress-like prison, which houses about 3,000 prisoners.
Authorities did not say if Mitchell had provided any information about the men's possible whereabouts.
The focus of the search was on an area near a highway that leads from Dannemora to Plattsburgh, about 14 miles (22 km) away, state police spokesman Beau Duffy said on Saturday.
Sweat and Matt escaped the prison late on June 5 or early on June 6, using power tools to cut through a steel wall, maneuvering over a catwalk, drilling through bricks and crawling through a steam pipe to a manhole on the street.
The complexity of the escape had led to speculation the men had come up with a smooth getaway plan. Possible sightings have been reported from across the border in Canada to Philadelphia.
New York State Police Major Charles Guess told a news conference on Friday there was no evidence the men had made it far from the prison.
Duffy said the search was centering around a 5 square mile (13 sq km) region after a "very significant" lead this week. He urged anyone with information to call in their tips.
"We don't have any evidence they are outside the area. But we do have evidence they are in the area," he said, adding that the search would continue round the clock.
Mitchell, 51, had previously been investigated by prison officials after she was accused of having an improper relationship with Sweat, who was serving a life sentence for killing a sheriff's deputy, Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said.
There was not enough evidence to bring disciplinary action at that time, he said.
The breakout from the maximum security section of the Clinton Correctional Facility was the first in its 150-year history.
Female employee of N.Y. prison arrested in convict escape
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A female employee of an upstate New York prison was arrested on Friday on charges that she helped two inmates stage a daring escape from the maximum security facility, authorities said.
Joyce Mitchell, an industrial training supervisor at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, is suspected of having smuggled contraband into the prison, where convicts Richard Matt and David Sweat escaped last weekend, authorities said.
Mitchell, 51, is charged with promoting prison contraband and criminal facilitation, according to the New York State Police. If convicted, she could face seven years in prison.
She was slated to be arraigned later on Friday, authorities said.
"This is one large piece of the puzzle in our quest to find these two escaped murderers," New York State Police Major Charles Guess said at a news conference.
In making their escape last Saturday, the convicted murderers slipped through holes cut into steel walls and a steam pipe, and popped out a manhole in the street.
Authorities have not disclosed what kind of contraband Mitchell allegedly smuggled into the prison, located about 20 miles (32 km) south of the Canadian border.
The manhunt on Friday involved more than 800 law enforcement officers, along with sniffer dogs and aviation units.
It was focused just a few miles from the prison, and searchers were scouring wooded areas, going door-to-door and checking on seasonal residences, Guess said.
Authorities do not have any evidence that the escapees have left the area, Guess said. He also said there was no evidence indicating whether they were together or had separated.
Chilly, rainy weather has made the search difficult but would have affected the escapees as well, Guess said.
"If they have not escaped the area or they have not availed themselves of shelter, you've got to assume they're cold, wet, tired and hungry," Guess said.
"That makes these individuals even more dangerous and desperate," he added.
Further charges could be filed against Mitchell, Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie said at the same news conference.
Wylie said earlier that Mitchell had been the subject of a previous investigation into allegations that she had a close relationship with Sweat, who worked at a prison shop that Mitchell helped supervise.
He said the investigations turned up insufficient evidence to bring charges, although action had been taken to separate the two for a period of time.