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Oklahoma Prisons Suffer Crisis of Violence and Mismanagement

by Matthew T. Clarke

2005 has turned out to be a violent year in Oklahoma prisons. Between January and July, 2005, the prisons in Oklahoma suffered multiple riots, multiple murders of prisoners, and extensive probes of drug running.
The stage for 2005 was set in 2004. In 2002 and 2003, 274 state prisoners were given disciplinary write ups for possession of a weapon. In 2004 alone, 351 prisoners were given disciplinary writ ups for weapons possession. This prevalence of armed prisoners, combined with an acute shortage of guards in Oklahoma's state prisons, set the stage for an increase in prison violence. Thus, it was no surprise when in 2005 violence exploded in Oklahoma prisons with three state prisoners murdered by mid-July and several riots having occurred in that same time period.
Sometime in the night of January 29th to 30th, 2005, Ronald Stiles, 48, a prisoner at the Lawton Correctional Facility (LCF) was strangled to death. LCF is a private prison run by GEO Group, Inc. Stiles was serving 10 years for possession of contraband. His cell partner, Robert M. Cooper, 32, who is serving life without parole for a first-degree murder, is the main suspect.

On March 22, 2005, a riot involving about 65 prisoners broke out on the recreation yard of the CCA-run Cimarron Correctional Facility (CCF) Cushing. [PLN, July, 2005]. Prisoners were armed with aluminum baseball bats, horseshoes and homemade knives (shanks). Adam Lippert, 32, was stabbed to death and thirteen other prisoners were injured during the riot. Eleven prisoners, Nathaniel O. Griffin, Authur C. Jones, Martin D. Reed, Jr., Jackie D. Ruble, Kentrel Wimms, Sedarfes Moore, Eugene Guiterrez, Cedrick D. Poore, Shawn Byrd, Jason Williamson, and Mark Anthony Ford face the death penalty for participating in a riot in which a person was killed. Prisoner Eric M. Johnson has been charged with first-degree murder as the person who fatally stabbed Lippert with a shank. Lippert suffered stab wounds to the face, scalp, chest, abdomen, shoulder, elbow, arm and trunk. District Attorney Robert Hudson has announced his intention to prosecute all prisoners who either actively participated in the riot or took part in its planning.

On March 24, 2005, three prisoners were injured in a large fight that occurred at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary (OSP) in McAlester.
On April 24, 2005, 33 prisoners were injured in riot at the Dick Conner Correctional Center.

On May 21, 2005, Ronald Pichon, 19, a prisoner at the Madison County Jail, was beaten to death. Prisoners Frankie Pruitt, 35, Alfred Tanner, 34, Christopher Robinson, 35, Jeremiah Davis, 17, Terry Kelly, 39, and Carlos McGalthery were charged with the killing.

On July 10, 2005, a riot broke out at the Oklahoma State Reformatory (OSR) in Granite. Prisoner Donald Ray Jones, 29, died of multiple stab wounds as a result of the melee that started at about 7 p.m. on the prison recreation yard. Eight other prisoners required treatment at a local hospital following the fight. Six of them were returned to the prison following treatment. On July 11th and 12th, guards conducted an intensive shakedown of OSR. They discovered about twenty shanks, mostly in common areas where they had probably been dumped in anticipation of the weapons sweep. Like the previous Oklahoma prison riots, the July 10th incident involved racial groups of prisoners. Prison system officials put part of the blame for the fight on understaffing. Normal OSR night staffing is 24 guards. 20 were on duty the-night of the fight.

The OSR riot triggered a political debate over prison understaffing.

State Senator and chair of the Senate appropriations committee Kenneth Corn, D-Poteau, promised to announce a plan for hiring state prison guards. We can't wait for the violence to reach beyond the razor wire and into our communities," said Corn.

Todd Heitt, R-Kellyville, Speaker of the House, criticized the use of a prisoner's death for policy debate.

The Department of Corrections has asked for an additional $12 million to pay for additional staff and requested that the governor call a special legislative session to deal with the special appropriation.

Corn is leading the charge for additional appropriations. The need is real and immediate. We have a shortage of corrections officersand our prison guards and our families are at risk," Corn said.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Stanley Glanz had regained control of the Tulsa County Jail following monumental mismanagement by CCA. [PLN, July, 2005]. CCA is moving 70 of its Tulsa jail employees to its 60 other privately-run prisons and jails. About 150 other CCA employees will be working for the sheriff at the 1,300-man jail.

As a part of the takeover procedure, Glanz had Security Company Black Creek Integrated Systems Corporation conduct a survey of the jail's security system which the company installed when the jail was built in 1999. Black Creek discovered much broken and missing equipment, estimating the cost of repairs at $259,000. Glanz intends to send CCA the bill. Some of the broken equipment, such as 272 intercoms stations, is critical to the secure functioning of the jail.

In less violent, but still disturbing Oklahoma prison events, a grand jury is investigating a suspected drug-running ring at the LCF. Michael McClain, a former guard, is suspected of bringing drugs into the prison that were sent to him by families of prisoners. In August 2005, the grand jury began taking secret testimony about the drug ring at the 1,900-man prison.

Law enforcement agencies investigating the drug dealings in the prison traced over $200,000 in drug-buy money from 14 states. They suspect over 100 prisoners are customers of the drug ring.

Paroled prisoner Darrin Brewer, 38, admitted arranging drug deals at the prison using a cell phone McClain smuggled in to the prison. Brewer said he allowed prisoners Lupe Sanchez and Caesar Sanchez to use the phone to have their families arrange for drugs that McClain could pick up.

Natalia Sanchez, 56, received many of those phone calls and also received large amounts of money from other prisoners' families, including Patricia Johnson, the mother of prisoner Barry McClure, who was recorded in a phone conversation instructing Johnson to send money to Natalie Sanchez. Johnson also received $41,000 from families of other prisoners and wrote a check for $22,000 to Natalie Sanchez. Brewer's father, Alfred Johnson, received $99,000 in payments from other prisoners' families and wired $30,000 to McClain. The drugs included marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin. The drug smuggling scheme is similar to one uncovered at the CCA-run Clinton Correctional Facility in 20011.

Melvin T. Perry, 53, pleaded guilty to receiving a $100 bill from his wife, Gracie Lee Perry, 58, during an August 30, 2005, visit at CCF. She has been charged with bringing the money into the prison.
Whether the cause is a culture of lawlessness and violence, poor guard training or pay, understaffing, or a combination of these and other factors, it is clear that prisons in Oklahoma are broken and in desperate need of repair.

Sources: McAlester News, Cushing Daily, www.tulsaworld.com, newsok.com, www.KTOK.com, The Oklahoman, WAIF, Associated Press.

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