Does Massachusetts Inmate Escape Plan Expose Weaknesses Within Prison Security?

Observers of recent developments in Massachusetts criminal law couldn’t avoid the news of one Che Blake Sosa, a particularly vicious excuse of a human being currently housed as the state’s esteemed guest at MCI-Cedar Junction prison in Walpole, Massachusetts. In February 2007, Sosa made news when he concealed a knife or “shiv” in his prison jumpsuit, made out of carved plexiglas, brought it into court, and in front of an entire courtroom, stabbed the very – and only – man in that courtroom willing to defend him – his own lawyer. Since then, Sosa has never been taken anywhere without at least a half-dozen armed guards surrounding him, shackled hand and foot. He seemed to relish the attention.

Now he’s got some more attention to be happy about: It seems Sosa was able to persuade a registered nurse who was contracted by the state to work at MCI-Cedar Junction, to assist him in a plot to break out of the maximum-security prison. Deborah Girouard, 44, confessed to police and prosecutors this past Wednesday that she had developed a “relationship” with Sosa, and had agreed to smuggle saw blades, a disguise, and other weapons into the prisoner’s custody to facilitate his escape. According to police investigators, Girouard had gone so far as to obtain and store all of the weapons and disguises in her locker at the prison, but backed out of the plan at the last minute, when Sosa reportedly threatened to kill her if she didn’t follow through with the scheme.

This news has more than a few people asking: How could such an irresponsible, arguably unstable person such as Girouard, end up being granted access to some of the most dangerous criminals in Massachusetts? Several observers have begun to question the process of how independent contractors like Girouard (she was not a state employee, but contracted by the state to work inside the prison as a nurse,) come to be placed inside some of the most sensitive security situations possible, such as inside a maximum security prison. Had Sosa’s plan been carried out and he successfully escaped, several people – prison personnel as well as residents of surrounding communities – would likely have been killed or seriously injured.

So far, no comment has been issued by state officials, and an inquiry will likely follow. Hopefully, adequate changes will be made, and soon, to a prison contractor hiring system that has obvious flaws within it. Every person charged with a crime is entitled to a vigorous defense, no matter how violent the offense he or she is accused of. But if and once convicted, the public and prison personnel must be protected from such individuals.

Massachusetts Department of Correction officials should act swiftly to assure that screening and hiring practices for such security-sensitive contractor positions are reviewed and if necessary corrected.