Oklahoma state prison officials refused to testify at a federal hearing held on January 8, 2014. Among the items on the agenda at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) hearing was an inquiry as to why Oklahoma’s Mabel Basset Correctional Center for women has the highest rate of sexual assaults in the country. Statistical data from a 2012 report issued by the Bureau of Justice (BJS) revealed that 15.3 percent of the female prisoners surveyed said they were sexually abused in some fashion.
“We found that the Mabel Bassett facility uniquely stood out as a high-rate facility,” said Allen Beck, a BJS statistician. “There’s no question that what we’re observing here is a significant amount of physical force, pressure, and coercion are involved.”
Beck went on to say that prisoners most targeted as sexual victims are uneducated, have mental disorders or identify themselves as non-hetero sexual. Females report higher incidents of sexual assaults by other prisoners than males.
The Mabel Bassett unit houses over 1000 prisoners. Of the 193 anonymously surveyed 3.5 percent said they were sexually assaulted by prison staff, a full percentage point higher than the national average. Three guards from the Mabel Bassett unit, accused of sexual assault, were named in a federal lawsuit filed by eleven female prisoners in July, 2013. Department spokesperson Jerry Massie said the lawsuit was the reason the state Corrections Department declined to testify at the federal hearing.
“The governor’s office and the Department of Corrections offered to answer written questions to ensure that we were answering their questions and providing accurate and complete information,” said the governor’s spokesman Alex Weintz.
The suit named Mabel Bassett’s former warden Millicent Newton-Embry as a culpable party to the sexual assaults. Newton-Embry is charged with negligence because at the time of the assaults surveillance cameras “were either not properly installed in the area or kept in an ongoing state of disrepair.” Ironically, Newton-Embry is currently coordinator for the Prison Rape Elimination Act. She declined to give any comment to investigators.
Mabel Bassett’s current warden Rickey Moham also declined to comment on whether or not any changes have been made at the unit because of the lawsuit. But spokesperson Massie insists that efforts have been made to encourage prisoners to report incidents of sexual assault.
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login