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Impact of Private Prisons Part 1: The Public Costs of a Private Riot
By stateimpact.npr.org - Logan Layden
Published: 07/25/2012

Oklahoma -- When California ran out of space to house its growing inmate population, it turned to Corrections Corporation of America, which owns private prisons in 16 states, including Oklahoma.

Now there are more than 2,000 Californians locked up at the North Fork Correctional Facility in Sayre. The arrangement wasn’t supposed to cost Oklahoma anything, but a recent riot at North Fork is changing that.

46 inmates were injured before CCA guards were able to restore order in the October 2011 riot. The company isn’t saying what caused the riot, but the California inmates who started it committed crimes in Oklahoma, and will have to be prosecuted here.

That task falls to Beckham County District Attorney Dennis Smith’s office.

“Now, this riot will create substantial costs to us,” Smith says. “A lot of that is going to depend on how many cases we actually file. It’s already added a strain. So, for me to be able to expound exactly how much it costs – there are so many factors that go into that. How many people are prosecuted? How many are convicted? How many are actually going to serve time.”

Smith oversees a five-county district, and his office is still dealing with job cuts resulting from the state budget crisis. Resources are thin, and having to possibly prosecute up to 20 riot-related violent crimes won’t help matters.

“DUIs, shoplifting, burglary, we see that kind of stuff,” Smith says. “Conversely, you get into cases that we don’t deal with a lot. One of those is prison cases.”

Charges are expected to be filed within weeks, but prosecution is only part of the cost to the state.

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