CRIMINAL justice authority gives CCA a `cure' period

Friday, July 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ The Tulsa County Criminal Justice Authority decided against sanctioning Corrections Corporation of America for the mistaken releases of two inmates in May.

Authority members voted 5-1 Thursday to give the Tulsa Jail operator written notice that a breach occurred and offer the company a 30-day ``cure'' period during which it would acknowledge the breach and explain any changes that have been made to prevent errors from recurring.

Tulsa County Commissioner Wilbert Collins suggested the ``cure'' period instead of a fine.

``What's wrong with us taking that step initially in an attempt to create good faith?'' Collins asked.

Jim Orbison, the authority's legal counsel, said that a breach had occurred and that the authority could give CCA an opportunity to cure the breach. But Orbison said that under the terms of the contract, the authority wasn't required to provide the time and could press further by imposing sanctions.

``It seems very clear to me that there is a breach and we have legal counsel telling us there's a breach,'' Authority Chairman John Selph said.

Tulsa Mayor Susan Savage argued that there is no specific language on bad releases in the contract. There is language, however, addressing escapes, where a breach would occur if it was determined that the jail had a higher frequency of escapes than comparable facilities.

``Why wouldn't we use the same sort of comparison?'' Savage asked. ``I'm all for holding people accountable, but I think you have to have a framework that's consistent.''

Dick said there are things that could not have been anticipated when the contract was written but that the bad release issue would be addressed in the next contract negotiations with CCA, which begin Aug. 1.

He said that he thought erroneous releases are the sole responsibility of the jail, while escapes involve a malicious intent of the inmate.

``This is pure negligence, lack of training, whatever. The inmate wasn't trying to escape, he wasn't trying to get out of the facility improperly _ he was given that gift,'' Dick said. ``Do I want to fire CCA? No. Do I think they're overall doing a good job? Yes. Why did we want a contract? So we could hold people's feet to the fire, which we were never able to do prior to this.''

CCA spokesman Marvin Branham acknowledged that CCA was responsible for the two bad releases in May but said he didn't think CCA had committed a breach in its contract because he thought the definition ``failure to incarcerate an inmate'' was broad.

``So even a tornado knocking down the wall and 20 people leaving would be a breach,'' Branham said.

Dick said people are asking what officials are going to do about the mistaken releases.

``That's the undermining of public safety, the mindset of the public that that's going on,'' he said.