McLOUD — Despite a federal report that found incidents of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence were double the national average at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center, representatives from the prison declined to testify at an annual Department of Justice hearing on the matter Wednesday.
The 2012 Bureau of Justice Statistics report found 15.3 percent of the inmates surveyed at the female facility reported some form of sexual abuse or rape from another inmate. This rate was highest in the nation for female institutions.
The study was done as part of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, a 2003 federal law aimed at identifying the causes of sexual victimization in prisons and the types of inmates who are most vulnerable.
“We found that the Mabel Bassett facility uniquely stood out as a high-rate facility,” said Allen Beck, a BJS statistician.
“There's no question that what we're observing here is a significant amount of physical force, pressure, and coercion are involved.”
The purpose of the hearings is to assist the bureau's research by gaining insight from prison officials and administration on what policies and procedures work and which ones do not.
A higher than average proportion of undereducated inmates, those experiencing high levels of psychological stress or mental disorders, and offenders who identify as non-heterosexual are all contributing factors to the facility's elevated levels of sexual victimization, Beck said.
Female inmates typically report more incidents of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence than males. Of the 193 inmates anonymously surveyed at the facility that houses more than 1,000 offenders, 3.5 percent also reported incidents of sexual victimization at the hands of staff, just over 1 percent higher than the national average.
In July 2013, 11 women serving time in Oklahoma prisons filed a federal lawsuit claiming they were sexually assaulted by three guards at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center. That lawsuit is ongoing and is the reason why the state Corrections Department declined to testify at Wednesday's hearing, said Jerry Massie, department spokesman.
The suit claims surveillance cameras in certain parts of the women's prison “were either not properly installed in the area or kept in an ongoing state of disrepair,” and the state Corrections Department and high-level administrators at Mabel Bassett are accused of allowing the assaults through negligence.
Rickey Moham, current warden at Mabel Bassett, declined to comment on whether or not the cameras in question were in fact broken or have been repaired or if any procedure or policy has been changed as a result of the lawsuit.
Millicent Newton-Embry was the facility's warden at the time of the alleged assaults, and she and the facility's current Deputy Warden Carla King are named in the suit. Newton-Embry now serves as the agency's coordinator for the Prison Rape Elimination Act. She did not return calls for comment on how the act is implemented at the facility.
Alex Weintz, spokesman for the governor, said another reason the department declined to testify was its lack of a permanent director.
“The governor's office and the Department of Corrections offered to answer written questions to ensure that we were answering their questions and providing accurate and complete information,” Weintz said. “We also indicated to the DOJ that when the department has a permanent director we could make the director available to the DOJ to answer more questions. That offer was declined.”
Ed Evans was named interim director after Justin Jones stepped down as the department's executive director late last year. The Oklahoma Board of Corrections interviewed candidates for the position Wednesday and Thursday.
The prison has made efforts to educate inmates on how to report incidents, including hanging posters and providing orientation on the issue to new prisoners, Massie said.
“We have emphasized for years the need for inmates to report those,” he said. “So, we hope the climate exists where inmates feel that if they report it, it will be taken seriously.”