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DOC says they were unaware of Fire Marshal's report


SHATTUCK, Okla. (AP) -- State Corrections Department officials said they didn't know until recently about allegations that prison inmates assigned to work detail crews had used telephones, computers and vehicles in Shattuck, as well as visited family members and received mail.

The accusations were made in a report detailing an investigation by the state fire marshal's office earlier this year. The Corrections Department may conduct its own probe, agency spokesman Jerry Massie said Thursday.

Juanita Bohlman, a spokeswoman for the William S. Key Correctional Center at Fort Supply, said the only information the prison received was a phone call to Warden Ray Little on June 5 from Ed Chappell, the fire marshal office's chief of inspections.

Chappell told the warden that his agents found one of the minimum security inmates under contract to Shattuck had done electrical wiring for the town of about 1,500 in Ellis County, Bohlman said.

"That's the only part of the report we knew anything about,"

Bohlman told The Daily Oklahoman. "We issued a memo to our work supervisors that day."

The inmate reportedly had an electrician's license and performed electrical wiring jobs for the northwest Oklahoma town from 1998 until the fire marshal inspection in March. State fire code requires such work to be done under the supervision of a licensed contractor or city inspector.

After interviewing town employees, fire marshal's office agent H.R. Horton was told that an inmate was doing most of the electrical work on town projects. He also had done electrical work at Shattuck schools and at a church, the report said. The man also had changed out a 480-volt underground service at the Shattuck grade school, and the work was not inspected, the report said.

Other allegations detailed in Horton's March 28 confidential report included: -- Inmates were left unsupervised during the lunch hour when town employees were told to go home for lunch.

-- Inmates had unrestricted access to office telephones and a computer during this time.

-- Inmates received mail through Shattuck's town hall.

-- An inmate reportedly took a town pickup and went to the post office.

Horton wrote that one town employee of 14 years quit because he feared being prosecuted over the inmate situation.

"The city employees are in fear of retribution when it becomes known, but they feel they are in a no-win situation," Horton wrote.

Horton said he talked to four or five people "with legitimate concerns about public safety" in the course of his investigation in March.

He told The Oklahoman he thought Corrections Department officials knew about the report and its contents. He said he is surprised there wasn't a follow-up investigation.

Town Administrator L.R. Holley denies the allegations contained in Horton's report. The town administrator said that when he was informed by the fire marshal's office that the town could not use an inmate for electrical work "we stopped it."

The town has a good relationship with the prison and has contracted for inmates the past three years, Holley said.

"It's a three-way win," he said. "It's good for the city, the prisoners and the public."

Holley said the town contracts with the Corrections Department for about $170 a month to use three or four inmates to fix streets, clean up around town and make repairs to town property.

"Some of the city employees don't like the inmates," Holley said. "I think those guys (fire marshal agents) talked to some disgruntled city employees."

Shannon Rowland, spokeswoman for the fire marshal's office, said her office was assured by the town administrator and corrections officials that the improper electrical work has stopped. The remaining allegations are not under the jurisdiction of the fire marshal's office.

Bohlman said that if her office had been told of the other allegations, "I'm sure we would have asked some questions. These are some serious matters."

Massie said he expects the minimum security prison will conduct an internal probe into its public works program with Shattuck. If the allegations have merit, the Corrections Department will conduct a full investigation.

There are specific inmate supervision guidelines for municipalities contracting for workers, Massie said. Inmates are not allowed to receive personal visits, use a telephone for personal calls, nor send or receive mail.

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