MIDWEST CITY — California corrections officials knew a private prison company was housing a convicted murderer, rapist and two other felons at a Midwest City nursing home, but contend they had no “role in approving or objecting to this facility,” a department spokeswoman said Friday.
Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the state agency is in “constant communication” with Corrections Corporation of America, the private company which has thousands of inmates from the Golden State under its purview.
Documents available on the state Health Department's website reveal the California inmates were housed at Buena Vista Care and Rehabilitation Center from Oct. 19, 2011, to Nov. 15, 2011, although Thornton said they were there even longer.
The inmates, severely injured during an Oct. 11, 2011, riot at North Fork Correctional Facility in Sayre, were shackled to their beds, not far from the typical residents one would find in any nursing facility.
Armed guards, reportedly as many as three at a time, watched over the prisoners at all times, the Health Department report states.
Thornton said Buena Vista fit the prisoners' needs.
“This is a skilled nursing facility that also provides rehabilitative services,” she said. “It was selected because it met the treatment and rehabilitative needs of these inmates. It also satisfied security concerns.”
Thornton said the convicts housed at Buena Vista have since been transferred out of Oklahoma. She said one is in a private prison in Arizona while the other three are back in California.
“The four inmates had all suffered severe head injuries,” she said. “They could not be transferred back to California or anywhere else, for that matter, until their conditions had improved.”
California began transferring inmates out of state years ago to ease overcrowding, but the nation's most populous state is now in the process of bringing those prisoners back home.
The inmates currently being housed at North Fork are expected to be gone by the end of 2013, Thornton said.
Arrangement called ‘shocking'
Buena Vista was fined $168,000 for taking in the inmates — an arrangement that placed 120-plus residents in “immediate jeopardy,” the Health Department report shows.
Dorya Huser, chief of long-term care for the state's Protective Health Services division, said the inmates' stay at Buena Vista Care and Rehabilitation Center is “completely shocking … and I've been doing this awhile.”
Huser said it's the first time she's heard of such a thing.
“To put felons in a nursing home is just appalling,” she said. “They had been convicted of extremely serious crimes, and that in itself would make them a danger to other residents.”
Huser said the realization that four dangerous felons had lived at the nursing home came during a routine inspection in March.
“We went in there to do a regular survey and came upon this,” Huser said. “Everybody was puzzled as to how on earth this happened.”
Huser said residents of the facility were “very much impacted” by the presence of the inmates, who were shackled and chained to their beds and watched at all times by armed guards.
“The prisoners were taken through the facility, at times, and the residents saw them during that time,” she said. “It was very unsettling for them. Try and imagine that.”