OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Current and former officials defended Oklahoma’s use of privately run prisons Monday following a weekend melee at one of the facilities that left four inmates dead and several others wounded.
Preliminary reports indicate at least three of the four men who died Saturday at the Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing had been stabbed, said Terri Watkins, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections. Three inmates wounded in the melee remained hospitalized Monday in stable condition, but Watkins declined to disclose the nature of their injuries.
The prison is one of three private facilities housing nearly 6,000 of Oklahoma’s prisoners. That company, Nashville, Tennessee-based Corrections Corporation of America, and another that runs a 2,500-inmate facility in Lawton, oversee dozens of facilities and tens of thousands of prisoners nationwide.
A rash of violence at some privately-run Oklahoma lockups is prompting questions about whether there is adequate staffing and oversight.
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“These are just holding pens for human beings. They’re terrible and they should be stopped,” said Rep. Richard Morrissette, an Oklahoma City Democrat and a longtime opponent of private prisons. “Making a profit over someone else’s misery is inherently wrong, but it’s not going to stop because look how much control and influence they have.”
But CCA spokesman Jonathan Burns said it was unfair to link Saturday’s killings at Cushing with the state’s use of private prisons.
“To suggest this incident had anything to do with the facility being privately operated is pure politics,” Burns said in a statement. “No corrections system — public or private — is immune to disturbances.
“Responsibility lies with the inmates who instigated and participated in this disturbance.”
With Oklahoma’s state prison facilities at or above capacity for years, state legislators have increasingly turned to private facilities to help house state prisoners. The facilities operate under contracts with the DOC, which pays a per-diem cost for each inmate and has state monitors who ensure the facilities maintain proper levels of staffing and programs spelled out in the contracts. At Cushing, the state pays $44 a day for each medium-security inmate and $58 for maximum-security offenders.
K.C. Moon, who worked for three years monitoring private prison contracts for the DOC, said the private prisons in Oklahoma are more state-of-the-art than most of the outdated state facilities and use technology to supplement staffing.
“I think the private prisons had the means to run their prisons with fewer staffers because they had so many cameras,” Moon said. “A private prison would have 10 or 20 times more cameras … so they needed less manpower.”
Although private prisons house about one-quarter of Oklahoma’s inmates, an analysis of the 11 homicides at Oklahoma prisons from 2010-2014 shows five were at private facilities and six were at state-run prisons. There hasn’t been a homicide at Cimarron Correctional Facility since 2005, according to DOC records.
In recent months, there have been several major incidents at CCA-operated facilities in Oklahoma, including a fatal gang-related stabbing at the Davis Correctional Facility in Holdenville. According to an internal DOC investigative report obtained by The Associated Press, 36-year-old Lewis Hamilton, a high-ranking gang member, was stabbed to death in August during an assault involving four other prisoners. No charges have been filed.
And in June, some 200 to 300 of the roughly 1,600 inmates at the Cushing prison were involved in a gang-related brawl there. Eleven prisoners were taken to hospitals after the fights, which broke out among inmates in three separate housing units and resulted in the prison being locked down.
Besides the facilities at Holdenville and Cushing, CCA operates a 2,400-bed men’s prison in Sayre that contracts to house inmates from California.
The Department of Corrections identified the victims killed Monday as: 31-year-old Anthony Fulwilder, 26-year-old Michael Mayden, 23-year-old Kyle Tiffee and 29-year-old Christopher Tignor. All four of the inmates had convictions out of Oklahoma County, where the state’s capital city, Oklahoma City, is located.
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