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ODOC: Prison Gang War, Tensions Rising

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Dr. Mary Looman, a psychologist at LARC, is speaking out against allegedly inhumane conditions in Oklahoma prisons.
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- According to a Oklahoma Department of Corrections memo, officers, and staff, several medium security prisons have been under partial or full lockdowns due to escalating inmate violence. Red Dirt Report obtained the memo dated June 12 at 7:52 AM from an anonymous source which reads:

In response to the multiple offender on offender assaults that have recently occurred, a partial lockdown has gone into effect at all medium security facilities, with exception of JCCC and MBCC. This will likely impact routine medical, mental health and programmatic services at medium security (facilities). Please share this information with your staff in the field so they can plan accordingly."

The memo is signed Clint Castleberry, chief administrator of program services. He is reportedly acting as deputy director of medical, mental health, and training for ODOC.

As of Friday, ODOC spokeswoman Terri Watkins refuted the memo saying, “I have checked the facilities and there are there no problems.”

However, after speaking with several employees at Lexington Assessment and Reception Center (LARC) and Oklahoma State Reformatory (OSR), racial and gang tensions have been high enough to enforce partial or full lockdown.

It seems tensions started rising Wednesday at the Cimarron Correctional Facility (CCF), a private prison in Cushing.  The Associated Press reported that a conflict involving 200 to 300 offenders erupted and resulted in sending 11 to the hospital.

As of noon Friday, Lexington Correctional Center (LCC) had been reportedly in full lockdown since Wednesday when a gang-related stabbing occurred at LCC. A source said one of the two offenders sustained 17 stab wounds and is recovering in a hospital.

According to an officer at OSR, that facility went into partial lockdown Friday, restricting gang members to their cells. “For the last several days on our yard the Indian Brotherhood (IBH) and the Crips have been grouping in various spots on the yard in camera blind spots. Yesterday a Crip tried to start a fight with an IBH in the canteen. We should be clear until Monday assuming nobody pushes to start anything,” the officer said.

Scrambling for Control

The officer said during a partial lockdown the idea is to keep groups of inmates separated from the rest of the yard without actually moving them or sending them to another facility. “It can help at times, but usually all it does is put more work on security staff because now they have to be fed cell side and if they’re allowed out of the cell for any reason, you need multiple officers,” the officer said.

However, two staff members who work with LCC and LARC both said that prisoners were being moved from troubled prisons, such as Jackie Brannon Correctional Center and McLeod Correctional Center to LARC and LCC. One of the inmates moved was a gang member who had stabbed an offender.

“That makes no sense,” said one source who wished to remain anonymous. “Why bring them into a yard where a gang stabbing happened two days ago?”

That same offender had a cell phone all night and the following morning until he was strip-searched, the source said.

“He could have been organizing with other gang members over the phone. We normally do shakedowns, where we search for weapons, drugs, and cell phones but we don’t have enough officers to do that as often as we’re supposed to.”

Another fight reportedly occurred after the prison transportation unit took offenders from LCC and LARC to CCF Friday morning. The source said although two rival gang members were separated during transport, they were put into the same cell and started fighting.

At LCC on Thursday approximately 147 inmates were moved all throughout the night so they could be separated into four units according to gang affiliation. When offenders are grouped by gang affiliation, sources say that can be dangerous as the offenders could get better organized.

Gang Violence Not Uncommon

Although skirmishes between rival gangs are not unusual, it comes at a bad time for a department which is already stretched thin.

For example, when an inmate needs to be moved for medical reasons, an officer must accompany that offender and call upon another officer to man his security post. If a nurse is required to come an offender's cell, the officer has to leave his post to escort the nurse. With record staff shortages at Oklahoma prisons, those functions become almost impossible or dangerous.

Today, two sources reported there was a serious security issue at LARC. A staff member with 20 years experience witnessed a rookie officer walk onto an inmate unit with the keys to the control room on his belt. “When I was an officer, you never took control room keys around inmates,” said a staff member, who also discovered that 5 security gates were unlocked and two control rooms were unmanned.  Those open gates would have allowed access to medical areas where drugs and sharp medical instruments are kept.

“Cadets are running units. One cadet just graduated in May and was in control of a unit at LARC which is a maximum security prison. Another one didn’t pass but she’s in uniform and she’s allowed to be around inmates. For the first time in my career, I locked the door to my office today. I was that scared,” said the staff member.

By noon, at least one employee left while the entire medical staff threatened to walk out to due to safety concerns.

Collateral Damage

As the memo indicates, even partial lockdowns affect critical prison functions.

Because temperatures can reach as high as 120 degrees inside cells, medically-compromised offenders are not only more susceptible to complications and death due to heat, but they receive medical attention in a much slower response time as prison movement is drastically limited. The longer a lock down lasts, even a partial one, the more risk is involved for fragile offenders.

Dr. Mary Looman, Phd is a psychologist at LARC and co-author of A Country Called Prison, (Oxford University Press, 2015).

“Everything comes to a screeching halt. We have 1,100 inmates in a prison, so just getting food to them takes most of the day because they’re not coming to get food. If they need insulin, they usually take that with their meal but the meal times are not the same every day now,” Looman told Red Dirt Report. “In affect a whole lot of people not involved in the violence are potentially at risk for death.”

She said about 60 percent of offenders are nonviolent, usually drug offenders and mentally ill and most new inmates will be in ODOC custody less than two years.

“These aren’t violent, vicious people,” Looman said. “They’re in here for simple drug charges, kept in a cell that is just as inhumane as leaving a dog in a car on a hot day with the windows rolled up. People don’t get that. I have to speak out for these people.”

Because of her code of ethics as a mental health professional, Dr. Looman said she visited with staff at the office of Gov. Mary Fallin on Friday afternoon, regarding the immediate needs of medically challenged and fragile inmates during this difficult time in prisons.

Riot Risks

As Red Dirt Report reported last summer, heat is one of the contributing factors consistently found in mass riots. Poor or insufficient food, poor living conditions, inadequate medical care, overcrowding, and compromised security are the components of a ticking time bomb.

With prisons hovering at 120 percent capacity weekly and expected to rise to 130 percent before the end of the year, questions remain how the Oklahoma Department of Corrections will manage to maintain humane treatment while being grossly underfunded and short staffed.

Red Dirt Report will post updates to this story as information becomes available.

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About the Author

Mindy Ragan Wood

Mindy Ragan Wood is a freelance writer and editor with a special interest in investigative and...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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