Staffing shortage leaves Oklahoma Penitentiary guard tower empty at night

Thursday, September 9th 2004, 6:25 am
By: News On 6

McALESTER, Okla. (AP) _ A staffing shortage at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary has led to an unusual sight _ a guard tower overlooking the prison's death row that stands empty during the day.

OSP Deputy Warden Kameron Harvanek said the tower's view of the H-Unit is considered a shut down post during daylight hours.

The H-Unit includes Death Row and houses some of the maximum-security prison's most dangerous inmates.

Harvanek said it's not unusual for towers to be unmanned in the daytime, but someone is in the tower at night.

``More than likely, somebody will try to escape at night, as far as going over the wall,'' Harvanek said.

The prison employs 307 correctional officers, but some are on military leave. There presently are 290 correctional officers spread out over three shifts to keep watch over some 1,400 inmates, Harvanek said.

The H Unit tower had been unmanned during daylight as recently as last year, but he said an officer was placed back in the tower while Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols was housed at the prison.

``We did that as more of a security need to keep people away from the prison,'' Harvanek said.

Nichols left the prison last month to return to federal custody. Harvanek said other security measures are in place at the prison to cover what an officer in the H Unit tower would be doing.

``You have additional staff walking around, checking on things, Harvanek said.

The prison is also secured with a system that will sound an alarm anytime some one touches a perimeter fence.

A strong wind can sometime set it off, Harvanek said.

``You do have false alarms,'' Harvanek confirmed.

Officers check out the situation every time the alarms sound.