A private-prison disaster in Oklahoma reveals the dangers of California‘s reliance on Corrections Corporation of America
By Dave Maass
Minutes later, the dining hall erupted in all-out war with fists, kicks and food trays flying. Within 15 minutes, the entire facility was thrust into chaos as 600 inmates, mostly African-Americans and Hispanics associated with the Surenos prison gang, bloodied each other. Suddenly, one of the largest prison riots in California’s recent history was going down in a corrections facility a thousand miles outside the state.
Oklahoma news stations have struggled for months to obtain information about the riot at North Fork Correctional Facility. Meanwhile, California media have largely been unaware of the unrest at the facility operated by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which holds a $1.18-billion contract to house approximately 9,600 California inmates at four of its out-of-state prisons. After four months of negotiations with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) over public records, CityBeat obtained the first narrative report summarizing the incident. That narrative, combined with testimony from inmates, family members and experts, raises grave questions about the future of private contracting in the state’s efforts to reduce prison overcrowding.
The CDCR summary describes how corrections officers played a dangerous game of Whac-a-Mole as chemical agents and pepperball rounds proved ineffective. Just as they quelled one pocket of violence, another large skirmish would break out in another part of the complex. Small groups of inmates were left to fend for themselves against 100-member-strong mobs, barricading themselves in the kitchen and gated portions of the gym and recreation yard.
“We’re investigating every aspect of this incident and the response to it,” CDCR spokesperson Terry Thornton says.
Bob Walsh, a retired CDCR lieutenant who writes about prison issues for several corrections blogs, identified many security failures in the report.
“My considered opinion is that it looks like they had way too many inmates out of their cells way too early so that when the situation kicked off they couldn’t control it,” he writes in an email. “Also, it seems that their physical security was not so great. They should have been able to lock down the dining rooms and the gym. They either did not do so or could not do so.”
After seven hours, 57 inmates were injured. Eight inmates had to be flown out by helicopter. Four were hospitalized for several weeks. One was in a coma. As of February, 39 inmates were accused of attempted murder, 67 with battery or assault and 136 for participation in a riot. Not a single inmate has been formally charged in court yet.
Continue Reading @ San Diego City Beat
- Riot at North Fork: Private prison exchanges security for profits (moorbey.wordpress.com)