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Escape Costs Oklahoma Private Prison $304,375

Gordon Flud's April 12, 2000, escape from a Hinton, Oklahoma rent-a-jail didn't end well for him--or for his prison. Flud, 44, jumped fences, avoided razor wire and climbed down the Great Plains Correctional Facility administration building's rainspout in his bid for freedom. But that freedom lasted only seconds, as guards nabbed him in the parking lot.

Call it the $300,000 escape. That's what the Oklahoma Department of Corrections did when it slapped the private prison's operators with a $304,375 penalty for alleged security breaches that allowed the escape to occur.

The 812-bed lockup is owned by The Hinton Economic Development Authority and operated by Cornell Corrections Inc. The penalty for Flud's escape, which DOC officials plan to withhold from Great Plains' state contract, is the largest assessed against an Oklahoma private prison.

The second largest was a $168,750 forfeiture levied against the same prison in March 2000 for not meeting medical service obligations [see related article below]. The $300,000-plus penalty amounts to roughly nine or ten days of free rent for the state, which pays Great Plains $43.95 a day for each of the approximately 715 prisoners housed in the for-profit lockup.

"It's very exorbitant and unreasonable and, for the most part, unjustified," Great Plains warden Sam Calbone said of the fine to The Oklahoman newspaper.

According to a letter obtained by The Oklahoman, DOC official Dennis Cunningham made recommendations to Cornell Corrections to improve security after a December 1998 escape from the facility. Like the first escape 16 months before, Flud "was able to exit the facility via the administration building roof because all of the security upgrades and improvements... had not been made," Cunningham wrote.

Among the DOC requests: assign one staff member to monitor security cameras. A camera clearly recorded Flud in an off-limits area the night of his escape, which "would have been cause for immediate attention and action," the DOC letter said. But no one saw Flud's "Great Escape" on camera.

"There was an officer in the master control area," Calbone told The Oklahoman. "There's a bank of monitors. Of course, the officer or officers are involved in other duties besides watching these monitors."

As far as the DOC's suggestion that a full-time staff member be assigned to watch the security camera monitors, the prison's operators don't think that's necessary. Other prisons don't do it, they claim.

"We're just not familiar with anyone assigned to look at a TV monitor 24 hours a day," said an attorney who represents the owners of the prison. "I think you could go blind doing that."

Calbone said the escapee himself is an issue because Great Plains officials had asked the Oklahoma DOC to move Flud to a higher security level in October 1999, but the state refused, the warden said,

Why? "It's because we expect them to be able to hold medium-security inmates, I would suspect," DOC spokesperson Jerry Massie quipped.

Calbone and the development authority attorney, Leroy Patton, implied the DOC may have had other reasons for levying such a large fine for the April 12 escape.

"I think there's probably some other dynamics involved that I don't care to speculate," Calbone said.

He may be referring to a DOC report in which state officials said they understood that the Great Plains facility might be negotiating to house federal prisoners instead of state prisoners, "since their per diem rate in the state of Oklahoma is presenting operating problems." The prison, about 50 miles west of Oklahoma City, housed federal prisoners at one time.

All Calbone would say was, "We're keeping our options open, of course."

Source: The Oklahoman

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