Department Of Corrections: All Offenders To Leave Tulsa's Avalon Center

Wednesday, January 15th 2014, 12:46 pm
By: Emory Bryan

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections says it is ending its contract with the Avalon Center in Tulsa for reasons of safety and security, and will move all the offenders out within ten days.

In a letter to the Avalon Center President Brian Costello, the Department of Corrections said it is making the move because the center is the target of three active investigations.

Now, more than 200 inmates aren't sure where they'll end up.

The Avalon Center is a halfway house where men spend the night, but work during the day. Many of them walking or using the bus to get there.

Michele Harrell is worried her husband will lose his job, and direction, if he's moved out of Avalon.

"All these boys are losing their jobs," Harrell said. "If they're placed somewhere outside of Tulsa, they're losing their jobs."

The Avalon Center has 212 inmates serving the last part of a prison sentence. They only leave to go to work, as a transition back to life on the outside.

According to the letter -- dated January 14, 2014 -- the investigations "have revealed serious infractions involving count, security, possession of contraband and offender safety."

The DOC says one investigation centers on video of a fight that appears to be in the presence of guards at the facility. 

Read the DOC letter sent to Avalon Center President Brian Costello

The letter says the DOC is convinced that the evidence shows Avalon has breached its contract with the Department. As a result, the Department says it expects the center to be "completely depopulated with ten days."

The letter says the "Department has lost confidence in the administration of the Tulsa facility." It's signed by Reginald Hines, Deputy Director of the Department of Corrections.

They will be reassigned to other facilities over the next ten days.  

The local administrator is Donnie Coffman, who, many families of inmates say, is helping people find jobs and turn their lives around.

But Robert Loyd, a former inmate, said he's happy to see it close.

"It's a good thing because a lot of people won't be high anymore," Loyd said.

Loyd also said allegations of fights, sanctioned by guards, are true.

"They were doing that when I was here. People would have fights in the bathroom and people would gamble and the guards wouldn't do anything about it, nothing," Loyd said.

The company that runs the Center also runs a women's halfway house in Turley, but it's not affected and will stay open.

Avalon is fighting the decision on the downtown center.

Avalon's President said, "This action is totally unprecedented and unwarranted."

They did admit, "There have been isolated incidents at the Tulsa facility that required corrective action."

They say they have requested the Board of Corrections action to stop the, "politically motivated retaliation against our Tulsa facility."

Michele Harrell is worried about her husband and the other men.

"A lot of them are going to give up," Harrell said. "I could understand if they did something, but your corruption is inside. And they're paying for it."

A Department of Corrections spokesman said Wednesday, he's not sure where they'll place the inmates, there's not another halfway house as big anywhere around, and that means no one knows whether they'll lose their jobs on the outside, yet.

The center released a statement in response to the DOC letter:

"We have been notified by Mr. Reginald Hines, Deputy Director at the Department of Corrections, of their intent to "depopulate" our Avalon Tulsa Halfway House effective immediately. This action is totally unprecedented and unwarranted. This action is based on preliminary information from an investigation of an incident occurring months ago. This information has not been shared with us and accordingly, we have not had an opportunity to respond.

We do not deny that there have been isolated incidents at our Tulsa facility that required corrective action. Incidents occur daily at every correctional facility, public or private. Our contract with the Department of Corrections makes allowances for potential breaches and sets in place procedures to address those breaches to the satisfaction of DOC. Those procedures were not followed in this case. Instead they have taken this unprecedented action which will result in close to 100 offenders losing their jobs as they attempt to reintegrate into society as well as 40 employees being put out of work at the facility and ultimately, will likely result in the permanent closure of the facility and the loss of 390 beds to the state. These are beds the state desperately needs.

In the wake of this action yesterday, offenders at the facility prepared a petition attesting to their safety and requesting the facility remain open so they can continue to work and/or job search. This petition and many other similar offender requests have been submitted to the DOC.

It is no secret that certain individuals within the DOC would like to see the failure of the Halfway House system in Oklahoma. The former Director of the DOC is on record stating that he doesn't believe private companies should be in the corrections business. That view is shared by others in the department.

We have requested Board of Corrections action to stop this politically motivated retaliation against our Tulsa facility. We will be proposing alternative action that will ensure public safety, offender safety and allow the facility to continue operations. This will also allow the time needed for investigations to be completed, allow us the opportunity to make changes as required by the Department's investigation, and avoid such drastic measures against us until all information is made available to us and reviewed by the Board of Corrections."