While, like Crito, the modern day audience can easily think of reasons Socrates ought to have escaped from prison, ultimately, the philosopher made the right choice.
Socrates, having been accused of atheism, corrupting the youth and working to undermine the city of Athens, was condemned to death. Escape, then, seems like a natural response. It would have allowed him to keep his life and possessions. Meanwhile, as Crito points out, it would have spared Socrates’ family the pain of losing him. Furthermore, it would have spared the reputation of his friends (Plato, 360 B.C.).
They would not have been looked down on for doing nothing to save him. Escaping from prison would also have allowed Socrates to continue to spread his teachings. It would have allowed him to continue checking the presumed wisdom of others. All of these things seem to justify an escape attempt. After all, when a person is already condemned to die, what have they got to lose?
The answer in Socrates’ case is, “a lot.” Socrates was already an old man when he stood trial. He had already had children and watched them train with their counterparts in school. At the age of seventy, he might not have had many years left to live at all. His choice, then, was to die, staying true to his teachings, or to repudiate the principles he had always taught and lived by.
In short, Socrates had to choose whether or not a few days or a few years more of life were worth dismantling everything he had worked toward. If Socrates escaped by repenting, those who followed him would believe that they had been fooled. They might very well lose faith. If Socrates escaped by fleeing, those he had debated with could say that he believed in one law for himself and another for everyone else.
Socrates, in the Crito, proved to the world that he was truly committed to his philosophy. He showed that, contrary to the accusations of his critics, he was not a sophist. By dying, rather than fleeing, he made himself memorable, not only to his disciples, but to future generations. Therefore, Socrates made the right decision.
Plato. (360 B.C.). Crito. Retrieved Dec 13, 2008, from Philosophy on the Eserver: http://philosophy.eserver.org/plato/crito.txt