09/28/2015 11:16 am ET Updated Jan 04, 2017

NY Prison Worker Sentenced For Helping Inmates Escape

She called her choice to help the duo break out "the worst mistake I have ever made."
Joyce Mitchell cries during sentencing at Clinton County Court in Plattsburgh, New York.
POOL New / Reuters
Joyce Mitchell cries during sentencing at Clinton County Court in Plattsburgh, New York.

A former prison guard who helped two murderers escape from a maximum-security prison in upstate New York was sentenced Monday morning to up to seven years in prison.

Supreme Court Judge Kevin K. Ryan said Joyce Mitchell must serve at least three and a half years of her sentence before she is eligible for parole. Mitchell was also ordered to pay fines in excess of $6,000.

Prior to sentencing, Mitchell, 51, apologized for what she called “the worst mistake I have ever made.”

“I never intended for any of this to happen,” Mitchell said. “I’m not a bad person. I clearly made a horrible mistake.”

Mitchell, of Dickinson Center, New York, pleaded guilty in July to promoting prison contraband and facilitating criminal activity. As part of a plea deal, the state agreed not to prosecute Mitchell on additional charges.

Authorities arrested Mitchell on June 12 for helping orchestrate the June 6 escape of Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora. After an intense three-week manhunt, Matt was shot and killed on June 26. Two days later, Sweat was shot and captured near the Canadian border.

Escaped New York Murderers

Matt was serving a 25 years-to-life sentence without the possibility of parole for the murder and dismemberment of a Buffalo man in 1997. Sweat is serving a sentence of life without parole for the 2002 killing of a Broome County sheriff's deputy.

Mitchell, who worked in the prison tailor shop, admitted providing Matt and Sweet with tools, including a chisel and hacksaw blades, which the men used to tunnel through prison walls. Authorities said she had also agreed to be the escapees' getaway driver, but backed out at the last minute.

During Monday's hearing, Mitchell said she only helped the inmates because she feared they would hurt her family.

"I just don't find that explanation credible," Judge Ryan told her as he imposed the sentence.

The manhunt for the suspects cost the state of New York an estimated $23 million dollars in overtime costs. Roughly $120,000 was also spent repairing the prison walls that Matt and Sweat damaged during their escape. A restitution hearing regarding those expenses will be held at a later date, Judge Ryan said.