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Tumultuous Times in Tulsa

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is wearing out its welcome in this oil city.

Last spring, Mayor Bill LaFortune, sworn into office in April 2002, told the county commissioners to take a hike when they wanted to give the troubled for-profit company a reported 21 percent raise for managing the Tulsa (Okla.) Jail. The commissioners have been accused of being "yes men" to former Mayor Susan Savage, a supporter of CCA.

Even without a raise, the company's annual payment increased to $20.6 million for 2002, up 64 percent from its first payment of $12.5 million in 2000. In addition, private-prison opponents logically assert, raises should be given to contractors that have done a good job, and that hasn't been the case with CCA here.

On several occasions, company employees working at the jail have mistakenly released inmates. In each case, the criminals were being sought by federal authorities or other local law-enforcement agencies. It has also been reported that CCA is charging inmates $8 for aspirin while making them wait for a week to see a doctor. One critic charged: "This puts their ethical standing lower than confined animal feeding operators."

Another black eye for the company: A former Tulsa Jail supervisor was charged with second-degree rape of a female inmate. "We have information that there could be other female inmates who have also been victims," said police Sgt. Gary Stansill. Especially unsettling about the incident is the fact that the supervisor, Eugene B. Pendleton, had himself spent 17 years in prison for the murder of a University of Alabama football player.

Pendleton, also an admitted drug offender, was hired by CCA as the manager of the jail's female Addiction Treatment Unit. The Tulsa World reported that he had been working at various CCA facilities since his release from prison in 1992. Said Don Stewart, the jail's warden who acknowledged being aware of Pendleton's murder conviction: "Prospective employees with felony convictions are not automatically excluded from employment."

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