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Riots Rock CCA Prison in Oklahoma

In Nov. 1998 Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) opened the Diamondback Corr. Facility in Watonga, OK and filled it with prisoners from Indiana and Hawaii. According to a prisoner housed at the facility there was a great deal of tension between the two groups, which resulted in numerous fights.

CCA reportedly did not separate the Hawaiian and Indiana prisoners until early June 1999, and then still allowed them to co-mingle at meal times when they were fed in the same dining area. On June 22 a brawl between Indiana and Hawaiian prisoners broke out as lunch as being served; the disturbance escalated until it involved about 80 prisoners and lasted an hour. At least two prisoners were injured and guards had to use-tear gas to regain control. Afterwards, the prison was placed on lockdown for several weeks.

Less than two months later, on August 15, 1999, another riot erupted at the Diamondback facility, which had since started housing Oklahoma and federal prisoners in addition to those from Indiana and Hawaii. A prisoner who was present during the riot said a group of Hawaiian convicts staged a fight in a recreation yard, then attacked and severely beat guards who arrived to break it up. According to news reports the riot began when guards tried to stop prisoners from climbing an inside recreation area fence.

Approximately two dozen prisoners, most from Hawaii, broke into a storage area and used softball bats, rakes, shovels and hoes to break windows and gain access to various buildings. The prison's gym and school were ransacked and the commissary looted; five guards and four prisoners were injured.

State and local law enforcement officers and guards from other CCA prisons had to be called in, and tear gas was used to quell the disturbance. CCA spokesman Duane Berg claimed there was no apparent reason for the riot, but acknowledged that Hawaiian prisoners had previously expressed complaints about the facility. The prison was again put on lockdown.

Several days after the Aug. 15 riot, Berg said the incident had caused "several thousand dollars" in damage to the facility. However, The Daily Oklahoman later revealed that prisoners had set fires that caused $400,000 in damage. CCA did not report the fires in a press release regarding the riot. "I guess just by pure oversight we didn't mention that there was burning that was done," stated CCA spokesman Berg. "I don't know that we intentionally didn't mention that."

Tom C. Martin, CCA's warden at the Diamondback Corr. Facility, resigned following the Aug. 15 riot.

Sources: The Daily Oklahoman, The Indianapolis Star, reader mail

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