While the Oklahoma legislature does not seem to think there is a problem brewing in Oklahoma's prisons, statistics keep pouring in that show otherwise. The state is known to carry some of the longest sentences and mandatory minimums for nonviolent, low-risk offenses--particularly drug related crimes. The state also has some of the lowest paid corrections workers, which in turn leads to inadequate staffing. The starting pay for corrections officers in Oklahoma is $11.83 per hour, $4 less per hour than the national average. Currently, Oklahoma prisons are staffed at only 60 percent. More inmates plus fewer guards is an equation for problems.
Instances of Rape in Oklahoma's Women's Prisons
The attack of a female case worker at Joseph Harp Correctional emphasized the safety risks of overcrowded, understaffed prisons, yet a spokesman for Governor Mary Fallin says that she "is not concerned about the situation in the prisons."
Being called to testify at a federal Department of Justice hearing about prison rape should make the issue a little more concerning.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs conducted Hearings of the Review Panel on Prison Rape, based on the Bureau of Justice Statistics' reports on Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2011-12 and Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth, 2012.
While these crimes occur within the prison system, this makes them no less heinous. Even if someone has been convicted of a crime and sentenced to prison, they still retain the right to hire an attorney to protect their rights.
Oklahoma DOC Testified
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections was called to testify because one of the state's facilities, the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McCloud, was listed as the nation's only all-female prison classified with a "high rate of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization," according to the National Inmate Survey 2011-2012, conducted as part of the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
According to the Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates report, "In 2011-12, an estimated 4.0 percent of state and federal prison inmates and 3.2 percent of jail inmates reported experiencing one or more incidents of sexual victimization by another inmate or facility staff in the past 12 months or since admission to the facility, if less than 12 months." Two percent of respondents indicated sexual ( read more here) assault by another inmate, while 2.4 percent indicated sexual abuse by a prison staffer. The combined percentages are greater than 4 percent, because some respondents reported both types of victimization.
Sexual Assault Rates at Twice The National Average
While the overall average of prison inmates who were sexually assaulted was at 4 percent, the incidents of sexual victimization was higher in female prison populations. Still, the percentage of inmates reporting sexual abuse by staff or other inmates at Mabel Bassett is extraordinarily high at 17.5 percent. At the facility, instances of rape or sexual abuse or misconduct by corrections officers or employees is about average for a women's prison at 3.4 percent. However, the number of prisoners reporting inmate-on-inmate sexual assault is more than twice the national average for such abuse at women's correctional facilities. At Mabel Bassett, 15.3 percent of respondents indicate that they have been sexually victimized by a fellow inmate, compared with a national average of 7.2 percent for female inmates. For further comparison, only 9.8 percent of prisoners reported inmate-on-inmate sexual assault at the male facility with the highest rate of sexual victimization.
Although called to testify at the hearings, Department of Corrections officials refused to testify, citing pending litigation in which 11 women are suing the DOC for negligence which permitted three guards to sexually abuse them. Named as a defendant in the lawsuit is former Mabel Bassett warden Millicent Newton-Embry. Ironically, Newton-Embry currently serves as the Oklahoma Department of Corrections coordinator for the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
Despite all of this, the government doesn't see a problem with the state of affairs in Oklahoma prisons.