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Escape down high-rise jail has Chicago wondering: how'd they dare? (+video)

The two convicted bank robbers, cellmates, apparently escaped the high-rise prison in downtown Chicago by rappelling down from the 15th floor on knotted bedsheets in the middle of the night. 

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Prison breaks have long been the stuff of television shows and movies, such as “Escape from Alcatraz,” “The Rock,” “The Fugitive” and, naturally, “Prison Break,” the FOX drama. Because most prison escapees are caught, those who elude capture tend to earn a degree of infamy, such as John Dillinger’s 1933 escape from an Indiana jail using a gun made out of soap, and the notorious 1962 escape by Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin from Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay.

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More recently, in 2007, Greek criminal Vassilis Palaiokostas escaped from a maximum-security prison in Korydallos, Greece, via a helicopter that landed on the prison roof. Mr. Palaiokostas is particularly infamous since it was the second time in three years he broke out of the prison via a hijacked helicopter. He is still at large.

Tod Burke, a criminal justice professor at Radford University in Radford, Va., says cases like those often fuel prisoners who may consider taking the risk.

“It probably goes through every person’s mind who’s in there at some point, making them think, ‘where are the vulnerabilities of the prison, could I escape, should I escape.’ But people will say it’s not worth it,” Professor Burke says.

Because both men used firearms in their robberies, they are considered dangerous, officials say. They are also considered well financed: Banks stole as much as $600,000, and only about $80,000 has been recovered.

Paitakes says that, to the public, both men should not be considered folk heroes for pulling off such a daring escape because “they have nothing to lose.”

“They don’t want to be caught,” he says, “so they’ll do some dangerous things like car jacking, maybe murder, because they know what will probably happen if they are caught – solitary confinement, which can be even worse” than their original sentencing terms.

Any investigation by the US Bureau of Prisons, which operates the high-rise prison, into how the men were allowed to escape, is expected to shape future detention policies.

“This goes beyond this one incident. This will have a trickle-down effect upon policies, not only in Chicago, but nationwide and also worldwide,” Burke says. “People are going to be looking at this and asking questions for a long time.”

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