Prison escape  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A prison escape or prison break is the act of an inmate leaving prison through unofficial or illegal ways. Normally, when this occurs, an effort is made on the part of authorities to recapture them and return them to their original detainers. Escaping from prison is also a criminal offense in many places, and it is likely to result in time being added to the inmate's sentence, as well as the inmate being placed under increased security.


Legal Definitions

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 temporarily released), resisting arrest, hindering prosecution (assisting an escapee) and even contraband related offenses are also covered in the same section of law.

Getting assistance

Outside assistance: 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 officers 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 officers 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, officers 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 Leads.
  • 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. 59 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 Fort San Cristóbal is a fort located on the top of the mount San Cristóbal, which is very close (4 km) to Pamplona, Spain. Built inside the mountain and obsolete since its opening in 1919, due to its weakness against aviation, it served as a prison. On May 22, 1938, during the Spanish Civil War, around 30 prisoners organised a mutiny for a massive prison break. 792 prisoners fled away but only 3 succeeded to get the French border; 585 were arrested, 211 died and 14 of the arrested who were considered the leaders were sentenced to death. Most fugitives were intercepted during the following days. In 1988, a sculpture was erected to honour the memory of the Republican people dead there. The fort ceased to be prison in 1945.
  • 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 escapedTemplate:Citation needed. 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.Template:Citation needed)
  • André Devigny, a French resistance fighter during World War II, escaped Montluc Military Prison in Lyon with his cellmate in April 1943.
  • At least 545 out of approximately 1000 Japanese Prisoners of War escape from Number 12 Prisoner of War Compound at Cowra on the night of the 4th of August 1944, of those 231 commit Suicide and 108 are wounded.
  • 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.
  • Midnight Express author Billy Hayes escaped from a Turkish prison island where he was serving a 30 year sentence for hashish smuggling, using a fishing boat to make his way to Greece and eventually home to New York City, in 1975.
  • 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 1983 Batticaloa Jailbreak on 23 September 1983, 41 Tamil political prisoners and 151 criminal prisoners escaped in eastern Sri Lanka.
  • 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 September 1994, 6 prisoners, including Paul Magee, used guns to escape Whitemoor (HM Prison). They were later recaptured.
  • In 1995 Vellore Fort Jailbreak on 15 August 1995, 43 Tamil Tiger inmates escaped from Vellore Fort prison in India.
  • In August 1996, Englishman David McMillan escaped from Thailand’s Klong Prem Central Prison 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 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 1999, Leslie Dale Martin and three other inmates on Louisiana's death row escaped from their cells at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. 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.
  • 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 Jan 2001, 3 inmates escaped from Oklahoma State Penitentiary's H-Unit (Hi-Max). One of them was injured during the escape, and while trying to get back in the prison he got caught in the razor between the fences. The other 2 offenders (one serving a life sentence for murder, the other for rape & kidnapping) were at large for several days before being apprehended in a small town approx 40 miles from the prison.
  • In New York, two convicted murders escaped from Elmira State Penitentiary in July 2003, both recaptured in 2 days.
  • Hugo Selenski was the target of a nationwide manhunt and gained national media recognition when he escaped from the jail where he was awaiting trial the week he was charged with the murders, on Friday, October 9, 2003. He and another inmate used bedsheets to escape from the Luzerne County Correctional Facility in the county seat of Wilkes-Barre. Selenski's partner in the jailbreak, Scott Bolton, was injured and hospitalized during the escape, but Selenski remained free. He turned himself in several days later.
  • 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.
  • 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 one New York state trooper being severely wounded. 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. He was sentenced to life without parole for the shooting death of SWAT officer Longobardo and 40 years to life in both other shootings, which injured one state trooper and one other SWAT officer.
  • 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.
  • Three inmates Lance Battreal, Charles Smith, and Mark Booher escaped from a Michigan City, Indiana prison on July 12, 2009 through underground tunnels under the prison yard. Charles Smith was captured on July 20, 2009 near Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's vacation home in Grand Beach, Michigan. Lance Battreal was captured on July 21, 2009 at his mothers house in Rockton, Indiana. Mark Booher was captured on July 23, 2009 in a hotel in Indianapolis, Indiana.
  • Michael Sabo escaped from Allenwood Federal Prison in 1979.

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, the story was made into a novel and later a movie.
  • 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.
  • Le Trou, a 1960 film by Jacques Becker, depicts the escape of five French prisoners from La Santé Prison in 1947.
  • Escape From Sobibor, the true story of a Jewish Partisan and a Soviet POW who together, with a group of other inmates, help 300 Jews escape from Sobibor extermination camp.


  • Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is a novella by Stephen King which revolves around a prison escape, and was made famous by the subsequent film The Shawshank Redemption featuring actors such as Morgan Freeman. The film was nominated for 7 academy awards.
  • 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 subsequent nationwide manhunt. A second escape from a prison in Panama and the subsequent (though brief) manhunt are featured at the end of the series' third season.
  • The end of both the novel and the film The Shawshank Redemption features an escape 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 The Prisoner of Azkaban depicts the manhunt of a wizard who escaped the magical community's version of Alcatraz (Azkaban).
  • In Sly 2 Band of Thieves the player has break out his fellow captive team members.
  • In Saints Row 2, the player escapes from prison with a fellow inmate named Carlos in the beginning of the game.
  • In Dead to Rights, the player is sent to prison after being framed for murder. After a lot of work an escape plan is developed that includes escaping from the electric chair as its used on you and as a bonus, killing the sadistic guard that was to perform the execution by putting him in the electric chair after you escape from it. The player then escapes through sewer tunnels and an old mine shaft. In a later chapter where the player returns to the prison (now shut down due to the escape and severe damage from riots that followed), the escape is referred to as being "now legendary." An interesting note is that during the attempted execution, two of the game's main villains are there to see the execution (one of which was responsible for the character being framed and sent there) and there's a third that presumably represents the third major villain as he's seen later working for him.
  • In Con Air, the inmates on the plane attempted to escape in an attempt planned by Cyrus the Virus (John Malkovich).
  • Riddick, a fictional character portrayed by Vin Diesel, is notorious for his ability to escape from seemingly any detention facility including those with extreme security measures such as hostile environments or even cryopreservation.
  • In both the novel and the film The Silence of the Lambs, Dr. Hannibal Lector escapes from his specially designed maximum security cell in Memphis, Tennessee by killing his two guards and using the face of one of them to fool the ambulance crew. He later murders the ambulance crew and a tourist and flees Memphis.
  • In Cool Hand Luke, Luke becomes notorious for his repeated attempts to escape prison.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Prison escape" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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