Prison Warned Of Security Problems Before Escape

Tuesday, October 9th 2007, 9:38 am
By: News On 6

HINTON, Okla. (AP) _ Just days before two inmates escaped from a private prison and went on a cross-state crime spree, state officials warned the private facility that its perimeter security was inadequate, records show.

One of the escaped convicts, convicted murderer Charles McDaniels, told investigators the guard tower at the facility was usually unmanned and that the razor wire surrounding the perimeter fence was insufficient, according to a report by the state Department of Corrections' Office of Internal Affairs, The Oklahoman reported Tuesday.

McDaniels and fellow inmate Tony Ellison cut through the Great Plains Correctional Center's perimeter fence with wire cutters on Jan. 22, kidnapped a Hinton woman and then an Oklahoma City woman, tying both up in the second woman's Oklahoma City home.

The escaped convicts also are accused of committing a rash of home invasions in the Tulsa area before they were captured 36 hours after their escape.

On Nov. 15, two months before the escape, prison officials received a security audit from state officials that criticized such areas as ``inmate count procedures, perimeter fencing, camera placement, and perimeter security,'' according to an April 6 letter to prison officials from Ed Evans, associate director of field operations for the corrections department.

The letter also noted that on Jan. 18, the state agency determined ``additional corrective action was needed due to the prison's inadequate responses regarding the perimeter fencing.''

McDaniels and Ellison escaped four days later. Ellison was found hanged in a Tulsa County jail cell after his capture.

State officials assessed the prison damages of $60,625 for non-performance between Nov. 15, and Feb. 19, when the prison's second plan of action was accepted by the agency.

``I'm not sure we really had enough time to fix all the deficiencies before the escapes,'' said Charles Siegel, a spokesman for Cornell Cos. Inc., which operates the medium-security prison for the Hinton Economic Development Authority. ``But I know we fixed most of them.''

Cornell paid the state agency the damage assessment, Siegel said.

McDaniels told investigators he was surprised the perimeter officer did not see him and Ellison cutting the fence during several recreation breaks.

``If they had just been driving around, they would have seen us,'' he told investigators.

McDaniels said he and Ellison went back and forth through the cut fence about three times before taking off and stopping at the first available house just east of the prison.

The report also said a 4 p.m. inmate count revealed two missing prisoners, but two more counts were taken before the prison's emergency response team was deployed at 5:30 p.m.

At the time of the escape, McDaniels was serving a life sentence for the 1988 murder of a Tulsa taxi driver. Ellison was serving time for burglary, motor vehicle theft and escape convictions.

Authorities eventually cornered and arrested the two inmates in Tulsa.

McDaniels is serving a second life sentence at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester because of the kidnappings. He still faces charges for the Tulsa burglaries.

The Hinton prison closed in April after a contract dispute with the Department of Corrections. It recently reopened. The prison houses 225 inmates and is receiving about 80 more each week from Arizona, Siegel said.

The prison is expected to return to its 900-inmate capacity by late November, he said.