Sunday, October 28, 2007
Nearly 400 Colorado inmates being held at a Sayre, Okla., private prison have sued their prison warden in an attempt to return to Colorado.
In a lawsuit filed earlier this year, 34-year-old inmate Jeremy G. Gardner, a convicted thief, argues because his crime was committed in Colorado and he was convicted in Colorado, he should be imprisoned in Colorado.
According to Beckham County, Okla., District Court records, at least 380 Colorado inmates have joined in his lawsuit against North Fork Correctional Facility Warden Fred Figueroa, filing nearly identical complaints with the county court between May 14 and Oct. 19.
Colorado transferred 480 inmates, including Grand Junction man Stephen Dallas Peck, to the private prison in December 2006 and January 2007. Inmates’ families have since complained that the move was not only unfair but also hindered their abilities to help rehabilitate their relatives.
Peck’s complaint, which mirrors that of his peers, argued he has committed no crimes in Oklahoma; therefore, he “has been deprived of all constitutional due process rights.”
Peck argues that the contract the Colorado Department of Corrections entered into with the Corrections Corporation of America is illegal, and therefore moot.
“(Figueroa) should be ordered to release the petitioner … due to his complete lack of authority to detain him,” Peck’s complaint states.
Officials from the North Fork Correctional Facility could not be reached for comment last week.
Beckham County Associate District Judge Doug Haught consolidated the inmates’ cases last week into a single case, “because the petitioners are located at the same confinement facility, and because of the similarity of claims, the court finds that consolidation is appropriate.”
Colorado Department of Corrections Director Ari Zavaras, Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, and Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, are scheduled to visit the Oklahoma prison today and Monday.
King and McFadyen have expressed interest in bringing Peck and his peer inmates home to Colorado.
“With proper oversight, a private prison is a way of leveraging tax dollars, a way of having adequate bed space and so forth,” King said. “From a policy standpoint, that adequate supervision part, in my mind, means that those prisons are in Colorado, not in Oklahoma.”