Wisconsin corrections officials looking into staffing at Sayre Prison

Thursday, July 20th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAYRE, Okla. (AP) -- Wisconsin corrections officials are looking into staffing issues at the private North Fork Correctional Center after a disturbance earlier this week left 15 correctional officers and an inmate injured.

Investigators will examine staffing concerns at the western Oklahoma facility, but they doubt staffing played a role in Monday's riot, said Bill Clausius, a spokesman with the Wisconsin Corrections Department. Wisconsin has 1,448 inmates in North Fork.

The melee started when an officer noticed a bag being handed from one inmate to another on the recreational yard, said Susan Hart, a spokeswoman for Corrections Corporation of America, which owns the prison. Another officer went to investigate and was tackled by an inmate, Hart said. Guards and inmates joined in the fight before tear gas was used to quell the 20-minute disturbance.

"Our staffing was fine," Hart said. "All our posts were manned. In fact, had staff not responded the way it did it would not have been a 20-minute incident." Hart admitted that officers at the prison do often work double shifts, but that those circumstances are "typical." "Understaffing isn't an Oklahoma problem. "It's a problem across the country."

The Sayre prison has 276 employees, of whom 150 to 175 are classified as security. Scott Barger of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association has said the inmate-to-staff ratio at Oklahoma's private prisons is substantially better than those at state prisons. In private prisons the ratio is 4-to-1, compared with 12-to-1 in Oklahoma's state prisons -- the worst ratio in the nation, Barger said.