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Jail Uprisings in Oklahoma and Arkansas

by Matt Clarke

June 2007 saw three disturbances at two jails in Oklahoma and Arkansas.
The Pittsburg County, Oklahoma jail was built in 1974 and designed to hold 64 prisoners. On June 26, 2007 almost 100 were packed into the facility. That was when a fight between two prisoners escalated into a 10-hour uprising involving around 50 prisoners, which caused an estimated $8,000 to $10,000 in damage. One set of doors leading to the outside was so badly damaged that prisoners might have escaped had under-sheriff Richard Sexton not backed a patrol car up against the outer door.

The riot was put down by sheriff?s deputies assisted by other police departments and a Corrections Emergency Response Team from the nearby Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Chemical agents were deployed and several prisoners were taken to a hospital for treatment of minor injuries.

?Overcrowding was definitely a factor in it if not a major factor,? said Sexton. ?You take a 12-man cell with 20 people in it that you?re with for 24 hours a day, seven days a week in cramped conditions. That causes problems.? The jail holds a number of state-sentenced prisoners due to overcrowding in the OK DOC. Several days after the uprising, the jail?s population was reduced to 61.

Two unrelated disturbances occurred at the Logan County Detention Center (LCDC) in Paris, Arkansas. The triggering factors in both incidents included a new anti-smoking policy and poor food quality and quantity, according to Sheriff Steve Smith.

On June 1 and 2, 2007, several prisoners accused a trustee of stealing their property. After a search of the trustee turned up nothing, the prisoners began screaming, kicking cell doors and attempting to flood their cells. Water was cut off and the protestors calmed down after about four hours.

However, the disturbance reignited the next morning when breakfast was served and prisoners threw food on the floor. They began kicking cell doors and screaming about the poor quality food. Seven deputies were called in to quell the disturbance. One prisoner was Tasered; two were transferred to other jails but returned a week later.

On June 17, the same two prisoners who had been transferred and returned were involved in another disturbance which began with complaints about the no-smoking rule and escalated into several prisoners setting fires in their cells. Deputies and Paris police officers put down the uprising. No injuries were reported in either incident; at least four prisoners face charges related to the two riots.

LCDC serves oatmeal, peanut butter and toast for breakfast and a turkey bologna sandwich, mixed vegetables and fruit cocktail for lunch and supper. The menu never varies. According to Deputy Sheriff David Spicer, the meals meet Arkansas Jail Commission standards.

?The inmates are always complaining about not being able to smoke and the food,? said Spicer. ?But, we tell them that they?re not supposed to like being in jail. We?ll follow the standards, but we don?t want them to like it here. We hope not being happy in the Logan County jail will keep them from committing crimes in Logan County.?

It seems nobody was ever incarcerated at LCDC who did not commit a crime, according to Spicer?s logic. He also apparently ignores the fact that pre-trial detainees at the jail, who have not yet been convicted and who are generally too poor to post bail, are not supposed to be subjected to punitive conditions.

Sources: Associated Press, Paris Express, McAlester News-Capital

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