NOTE: This story contains language that some might find offensive.
Correctional officers at Jess Dunn Correctional Facility in Taft are hopping mad about the way things are going there, and they’re reaching out to the media and state politicians to help. Several state senators and representatives have received a letter also sent to MuskogeeNOW.com. The correctional officers, known to MuskogeeNOW, have requested anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Jess Dunn is a high minimum security prison just a few miles west of Muskogee that houses mainly medium-level inmates, which includes some violent offenders. The prison has had four escapes so far this year.
Romon Jones, the correctional chief, is in charge of all the correctional officers, but has been causing concern with them instead, according to the letter and subsequent conversations.
Jones is alleged to “pal around” with inmates, mostly those who identify with the Bloods street gang.
“Jones regularly lowers or drops offense reports against the inmates, especially the ones he pals around with,” the letter stated. “He regularly confers with gang shot-callers and acts like one himself. He has two sets of rules: one for the black inmates, the other for the rest.”
Jones, the letter went on, informed officers he believed they were lying on all their reports and that he was going to start getting the “real” story from the inmates instead of officers.
Officers repeatedly find inmates having cell phones (a felony and violation of prison policy), yet the inmates are rarely prosecuted for the phones, one officer told MuskogeeNOW. In one incident reported in the letter, Jones flouted prison policy by trying to drive his personal vehicle onto the prison compound. The attempt caused an argument with officers in control, until Jones ended the argument by commanding them to “open the fucking gate.” Jones is also accused of removing inmates from maximum security lockup, uncuffing them outside the fence and letting them walk unrestrained, which is also against policy.
The letter stated that several large fights involving between 80 and 100 inmates with less than six officers to guard them “got out of hand” and “lasted hours.” The chief finally showed up, the letter states, and did not know how to operate a pepper jet crowd control system. Several inmates were sent to the hospital and reports to the state were doctored to say it was a “small fight” and “controlled.”
“It was anything but small,” the officer said. ”(The officers) were criticized by administration for not using pepper spray. But each pepper spray bottle can affect maybe five inmates, enraging the rest. No officers were injured, which means (they) made the right call.”
Another officer said the chief would have inmates brought to his property to work on his lawn, which is against prison policy. That officer said the chief also “dropped his pants in the quartermaster” and then refused to let it be reported because “it’s only reportable if an inmate calls the hotline,” not if employees are upset.
Officers are forced to allow inmates to walk from destination to destination unrestrained, accompanied by a single or very few officers, according to the officer. If an inmate runs, the officer cannot give chase, because he or she has to watch the rest of the inmates. Instead, the officer must call it in over the radio and hope other officers arrive in time.
The vast majority of seasoned officers have left the prison, the officer reports, leaving unseasoned and barely-trained greenhorns to try to keep inmates in line.
“There are more drugs and cell phones in this prison than on the streets,” the officer said. Perimeter officers are stretched too thin and rarely see drops, the officer said, and dirty staff and lax visitation control means contraband flows freely into the prison.
“Shanks are being found daily,” the officer said, “which could be leading to something. We have people seeking protective custody daily from their debts on the yard from drugs and (other contraband).”
So many inmates are in protective custody, that the administration has directed officers to place inmates in visiting rooms in segregated housing, because the cells are all full, which places already-stretched officers at greater risk, the officer said.
“The visiting rooms have no food passageways, therefore no way to cuff an inmate before opening the door,” the officer said. “The visiting rooms also don’t have toilets or water, just a concrete floor.”
Officers report they have been told to count those inmates as still in their bunks on the regular units.
“We don’t know if Oklahoma City knows or if they are just turning a blind eye, but something needs to be done. This is getting worse, and we need help. Please.”
The Department of Corrections has not responded to a request we made on Friday for comment.
UPDATE: Chief Jones called to comment. At first, a woman was on the phone and asked who the sources for this story were. When she was told the sources’ names wouldn’t be revealed, Jones got on the phone.
“Those are all false charges,” he said. “I was charged with bringing contraband into a penal institution, but it was dismissed. There were allegations of me being a gang member, but those were false too.”
Jones asked whether MuskogeeNOW had spoken to actual people or whether the entire story was based on the email. When it was confirmed that real people were the sources for the story, he again asked who they were, and was told their names wouldn’t be revealed.
“I’m going to talk to my lawyer before I say anything to you,” he said finally.