Most Killers Not Housed In Maximum-Security Prisons

Sunday, February 11th 2007, 6:12 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ More than two-thirds of convicted killers in Oklahoma are not incarcerated at the state's most secure prisons, but instead are housed in state-run and private medium-security facilities, according to a published report.

Fewer than 400 first-degree murderers, including the men on death row, are at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, according to records for Jan. 23. Another 117 are at the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center, a women's prison, The Sunday Oklahoman reported.

``Inmates can earn their way down,'' Corrections Department Director Justin Jones said. ``I think it's OK. ... For us, medium security is considered high security.''

The issue arose after convicted killer Charles McDaniels and fellow inmate Tony Ellison escaped from the Great Plains Correctional Facility after cutting holes in fences. The pair abducted a woman, drove her and her vehicle to Oklahoma City and assaulted and robbed another woman before taking off in her vehicle.

They eventually were apprehended in Tulsa, where Ellison hanged himself at the jail, authorities said.

McDaniels and 65 others with first-degree murder convictions were held at the medium-security private prison in Hinton.

``I had been told that they didn't have murderers there ... that it was just for burglary and assault and so forth,'' said June Heldermon, 71, who lived near the prison and was kidnapped Jan. 22, allegedly by the escapees.

Heldermon is seeing a counselor over her ordeal and is staying with her daughter.

``I've got to get rid of that house,'' she said. ``I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm just not about to go back up there and live. ... No way! One time's enough for me.''

Almost 1,200 are at state and private medium-security prisons, and 23 have been shipped to other states, mostly because they are at-risk or problem inmates, according to the report.

A few are in jail awaiting resentencing, a couple are in other states because they've faced trials there, too. Two killers are in an Oklahoma City community center, and three are in minimum-security areas, according to the story. Four were at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center awaiting transfer.

In maximum security, inmates are locked in their cells 23 hours a day. Inmates in medium security have more freedom of movement but are still surrounded by double fencing and razor wire.

One escaped killer, Teddy Ellis, has never been caught after cutting a hole in a prison fence in 1986 at the Hominy prison. A former death row inmate, Lawrence Lee Breedlove, walked away from a minimum-security prison in 1992 and was caught in Washington after killing again.

Officials said the problem with housing all the killers in maximum-security facilities is the same as the woes plaguing the overall corrections system: not enough room.

The agency wants funding to add almost 1,600 maximum-security beds at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.

``You may have a murderer ... and say it was a crime of passion, they're not a threat to you or I even if they were home,'' Jones said. ``... However, they've got to pay their debt. ... After a period of years, with a spotless record, you can earn the right to go to medium.''

Some residents and business owners who are near medium-security prisons told The Oklahoman they didn't know murderers were there.

``I had no idea at all,'' said Margaret Yoder, 86, who lives a mile north of the Lawton Correctional Facility, a private prison with 229 first-degree murderers. ``I thought it was ... drug dealers and things like that and robbers. It disturbs me.''

The two murderers housed at the Oklahoma City Community Correctional Center are there as an intermediary step before parole, officials said.

At the minimum-security facility in Boley is Orlando Stevenson, who fatally shot another man over a $20 debt in 1980. Officials say he is close to getting released.