OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Weekend fights at six Oklahoma prisons that left one inmate dead and more than a dozen others injured were apparently coordinated and the result of race-based gang tension inside the facilities, the head of a prison workers association said Monday.
The first fight erupted Saturday at the Northeast Oklahoma Correctional Center in Vinita, in the northeast of the state. It was followed Sunday by fights at prisons in Hominy, Sayre, Fort Supply, Lawton and Stringtown, according to the state Department of Corrections.
The prisoner who died was at the medium-security Dick Conner Correctional Center in Hominy, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) northeast of Oklahoma City. More than a dozen inmates were taken to hospitals with injuries that aren't considered life-threatening.
"It has to be a coordinated effort," said Bobby Cleveland, director of the Oklahoma Corrections Professionals. "They even had fights at the minimum-security prison," he said, referring to the Fort Supply lockup.
All of Oklahoma's prisons remained locked down on Monday, with family visitation canceled and inmates mostly confined to their cells.
Prison officials were still investigating what caused the fights, but Cleveland said tension has been brewing for months among race-based gangs inside the state's prisons.
Four inmates were wounded last month after skirmishes erupted at a prison in northwestern Oklahoma, and dozens of inmates were involved in an altercation at a private prison earlier this year in Lawton, in the southwest of the state, that left nine inmates injured.
Eighteen members of a white supremacist Oklahoma prison gang were charged earlier this year with racketeering, drug conspiracy and kidnapping that resulted in at least six homicides over the past 14 years, according to a federal indictment.
Cleveland said inmates can use contraband cellphones to coordinate attacks, even among prisoners at other facilities.
Since 2011, prison officials in Oklahoma have seized more than 48,500 prohibited cellphones and asked federal lawmakers to authorize the use of cellphone signal jamming technology to help stem the problem.
The former director of Oklahoma's prison system frequently delivered dire warnings to the Legislature about overcrowded, crumbling facilities, staff shortages and steady increases in the number of inmates.