In the last half-century, the state's prison system expanded to more than 20 facilities. Wethersfield closed in 1963 and 788 prisoners were transferred to a new maximum-security state prison in Somers. Since Jan. 1, 1968, when the state Department of Correction was established, there have been 964 escapes by 880 inmates - some escaped more than once. All of those escapees were returned to confinement, according to the Department of Correction. Among those modern-era escapes was Frederick Rodney Merrill, dubbed the "Peanut Butter Bandit" after his mother hid a gun, money and a handcuff key in a Christmas gift of peanut butter. Merrill used the gun to escape from guards during a transfer from court back to Somers prison in 1968. He was caught at a police roadblock, fleeing with his mother. Merrill was not the lighthearted guy his nickname implied. He went on to serve sentences in Connecticut and Canada for violent sex assaults and multiple prison breaks.
Courant File Photo
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