The Long Knives are Out For Private Corrections in Oklahoma

Disclaimer: For those who are deaf to anything resembling facts and would rather settle stubbornly on the tired argument that the corrections industry should be left to nonprofits and the government because, ahem… Private Corrections Profit off Human Suffering, I would like to point out that many CEOs of nonprofits have corporate jets. And if you think the government is better than the private sector at running things, you obviously haven’t been to the DMV. This piece isn’t about that issue, so let’s just dispense with that nonsense straightaway.

The long knives are out for private corrections in Oklahoma and the usual suspects are brandishing them. The private company on the chopping block is Avalon Correctional Services, a company that owns and operates halfway houses in Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Texas, and the knife throwers are a body politic comprised of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, the media, a couple goon lawyers, a district attorney, and a public duped into believing that anything a private company does, the government can do better.

From the Tulsa World: FBI, state investigate Avalon Tulsa halfway house

Aside from the fact that the article itself, written by Cary Aspinwall, is a convoluted mess (that happens when agenda trumps careful editing); it’s also an obvious smear job. Facts be damned! The Tulsa World has a company to destroy.

Louis Bullock, media-proclaimed prison reformer in 1972 and Scott Graham are the attorneys leading the assault against Avalon with charges, (not official, mind you) of rampant drug use, worker sanctioned fighting, cell phone use, and other nefarious allegations. Bullock is even throwing around the Civil Rights card, because that’s how he rolls.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC), long-time haters of any operators of private prisons in Oklahoma angling for a slice of the prison reform pie, are, of course, working in tandem with Bullock and Graham. They proved their solidarity by completely depopulating Avalon Tulsa and shutting it down with barely any notice and without giving Avalon any chance to respond or correct the alleged violations. Well, to be fair, Deputy Director of Community Corrections, Reginald Hines, did drop off a letter at the Avalon offices, sans reasons, on January 14 saying they were going to fully depopulate the facility in 10 days. By that evening Avalon was fodder for the evening news.

This is the ODOC's preferred method of communication.
This is the ODOC’s preferred method of communication.

And in a surprising move by any bureaucrat’s standards, they managed to depopulate the facility in under ten days. Nothing fast tracks big government quite like the prospect of killing off the private sector. Again, official charges have yet to be brought forth.

So what are Avalon’s crimes for which they are being punished? From Aspinwall’s Tulsa World piece:

“Last summer, Tulsa attorneys Louis Bullock and Scott Graham went to the Avalon Tulsa halfway house to see an inmate who complained that his broken hand wasn’t getting medical treatment.”

This is where some investigative skills would come in handy for Aspinwall and her Tulsa World ilk. Halfway houses endeavor to give inmates every opportunity to succeed. As the name ‘halfway’ implies, these men are granted partial freedom for a designated period of time during the day to work or find a job. The inmate whose lawyers claim he was denied medical care was supposed to be back at the Avalon facility at a designated time. When he didn’t check in at the appointed time, Avalon tracked him down and, as per procedure, took steps to remand him back to Nowata County jail for the infraction. It was when Avalon staff brought him back to the halfway house to await transfer that they saw his hand was injured. When asked about it, he claimed he injured it on his bunk. Nowata County was notified by Avalon that the man’s hand would need medical attention. He underwent surgery the next day.

District Attorney, David Prater, who has made no secret of his animus toward private corrections, praised Aspinwall on his facebook page with this:

I appreciate Cary Aspinwall’s journalistic abilities. She and her paper recognize the “Watchdog” role of the press. All private prisons in Oklahoma deserve this type of scrutiny.”

Wedged between selfies and Candy Crush requests...
Prater’s fb pge.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but a true journalist who actually employs some scrutiny would investigate all angles of a story. It isn’t surprising, however, that Aspinwall crafted this journalistic masterpiece with only one side, thereby purposely leading the public to view Avalon as negligent and unwilling to provide medical care to inmates. And let’s be honest, that’s the real reason Prater is praising her.

And, by the way, according to Avalon, every facility has a blue phone that any resident can pick up at any time between 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. for any minor medical issues and to schedule medical appointments. Avalon staff escorts the inmates to their appointments. There are also 911 protocols in place at each Avalon facility. Something the ODOC might want to think about, but we’ll get to that later.

Speaking of railroading and media bias, because, aren’t we, really? Aspinwall’s version of journalistic due diligence is when she visited and reported on Center Point Women’s Facility. Her promotional piece story ran in  the Oklahoma Watch: Impact Journalism in the Public Interest. For the record, I have no qualms with Center Point. I am sure they are a responsible organization that serves their clients well. However, the same cannot be said about Aspinwall. When Avalon invited her to visit Turley, their women’s facility in Tulsa, she declined. It seems you can’t give equal time to the people you are paid to paint as the enemy. And, besides, Center Point is nonprofit, which makes it sacrosanct. (See my opening paragraph.)

Aspinwall’s journalistic malfeasance continues:

“Both lawyers [Louis Bullock and Scott Graham] have visited private and public prisons throughout Oklahoma and typically undergo a basic security check and pat down when entering facilities.”

It is important to note that the Avalon facility in Tulsa is a halfway house, not a prison. Security protocols differ in halfway houses from those in prisons. This is a point the Tulsa World and the rest of their mob seem more than happy to leave uncorrected because it suits their destroy-the-private-correctional-industry agenda..and because they know their readers rarely get past the headline, let alone the first paragraph, anyway. Minimal journalistic abilities aren’t even required to uncover the difference between a prison and a halfway house; a little ethics and a dictionary would suffice. Tall order, I know.

But the smear campaign continues:

“What Bullock has seen from Avalon Tulsa and heard from various inmates greatly concerns him, he said. I was shocked at how lax it is,” Bullock said. “For an example of how out of control the place is, look at how common cellphones were.”

Let me guess: he said? (Seriously, get this girl an editor already.)

The irony here is that while Aspinwall dutifully transcribes Bullock’s incredulity with school girl fervor, just a couple weeks ago Lawton correctional facility inmate Christopher Glass, was found dead on the floor of his cell. Police records showed that six 911 calls were made between 8:50 p.m. on Sunday, January 26 and 1:55 a.m. on Monday, January 27. His body was discovered at 7:20 a.m. on Monday. Either glass had a cellphone or his cell door wasn’t secure and he had access to the payphone. And this happened in a prison, not a halfway house. How shocked was Bullock about that inmate having access to a phone? How shocked was Aspinwall?

“Yet cellphones and drugs were everywhere inside Avalon Tulsa, Bullock said.”

This is an article rife with hearsay. But, then, so are the allegations that summarily shut down Avalon Tulsa.

The “safety of the inmates” was cited as the main reason for the immediate depopulating of the facility. Move over Mr. Bullock, now it’s my turn to be incredulous. (And pay attention Ms. Aspinwall, this is what investigative journalism is supposed to look like.) A whopping 209 inmates were removed from Avalon Tulsa and placed in various halfway houses across the state. One facility that took in 45 of Avalon’s inmates was Center Point Osage County. Center Point has a max capacity of 50 inmates. According to the ODOC’s own numbers, with the addition of Avalon’s inmates, it is now at 93. Can Bullock, Graham, Prater, or any of the talking heads at the ODOC explain how having a facility 43 men above max capacity solves a safety problem? Maybe Aspinwall should go out to Center Point Osage and gush eloquent about the living conditions in a facility that is admittedly over full.

Yep, security is the first word that comes to mind when I look at this place. And it's over it's max by 43 men.
Yep, ‘safe’ is the first word that comes to mind when I look at this place. And it’s over it’s max by 43 men.

The glaring injustice in all of this is in how the depopulating of the Avalon Tulsa facility and the ongoing ‘investigations’ are being handled. The DOC withheld, and continues to withhold information from Avalon and choses, instead, to feed it to a more-than-compliant, lapdog media. Forget rule of law and due process, apparently the court of public opinion is where these wars are waged these days.