CUSHING, Oklahoma — A private prison remained under full lockdown indefinitely Thursday after inmates from three housing units got into a fight that sent 11 of them to the hospital Wednesday afternoon, officials said.
The fight at Cimarron Correctional Facility began at 4:36 p.m. and was under control by 5:15 p.m., Corrections Corporation of America spokesman Steve Owen said. Nashville, Tennessee-based CCA owns and operates the Cushing facility.
Authorities first reported that 12 inmates were hospitalized after the brawl, but it was later determined that one of them had a routine medical appointment that was unrelated to the incident, Owen said. He also corrected an earlier report that indicated four housing units were involved in the incident.
What started the fight between the inmates, who were all in medium-security housing, remained unclear Thursday, Owen said. The facility houses 1,650 inmates, with 1,470 medium-security and 180 maximum-security beds.
“I would not describe this as something that occurs with regularity,” he said. “Our staff train and prepare to respond to things when they happen, and our staff did a very good job of responding to this with no injuries to staff and no threat to public safety.”
The Associated Press reported that officials said between 200 and 300 inmates were involved in the fight, but Oklahoma Department of Corrections spokeswoman Terri Watkins said a more precise number would come after further investigation. Watkins also said CCA officials would have to submit a report on the fight to the DOC, but there was not yet an estimate on when it would be complete.
None of the inmates suffered life-threatening injuries, Watkins said. Five remain hospitalized as of Thursday night.
The prison is at full capacity, Watkins said
State-run and private corrections facilities in Oklahoma have dealt with staffing shortages for at least the past decade, and those problems have worsened as facilities continue to be filled or over capacity. Owen said that while he didn’t know the exact number of staff who work at the Cushing facility, there was nothing to indicate that its staffing level was a factor in Wednesday’s violence.
Tulsa World archives indicate that the last unit-wide fight at Cimarron Correctional Facility occurred March 3, 2013, and involved inmates smashing windows, breaching security doors and being pepper-sprayed after making weapons from destroyed property. That incident involved a single housing unit that held Puerto Rican prisoners whom CCA supervised under a contract.
The Puerto Rican inmates had refused to go on lockdown for an inmate count, according to an incident report. The report called the incident a “disruptive event” rather than a riot.
About three months after the altercation, CCA officials announced that the Puerto Rico Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation had decided to return its inmates housed at Cimarron to Puerto Rico.
Prison officials reported that Puerto Rico said the decision came because of budget concerns, and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections replaced those inmates with state offenders, including maximum-security inmates from Oklahoma State Penitentiary, Tulsa World archives state.
Another incident at the prison on May 16, 2013, involved 10 offenders and began when one of them hit an inmate who was eating lunch in the dining hall. Officers used more than a pound of pepper spray against the inmates, who were all Hispanic, after they refused verbal orders to stop fighting, according to a narrative of the incident. A list of inmates involved in the fight stated that one of them had a history of being in race-related disturbances.
The facility was at least partially locked down for more than two hours as a result of that altercation, the incident report states.
Samantha Vicent 918-581-8321