ATOKA COUNTY, OK - Those who live near Howard McLeod Correctional Center tell us inmate escapes have become the norm. Over the past few years there have been several escapes, which prompted News 12 to investigate why criminals with violent pasts are at this minimum security prison.
30 miles southeast of Atoka Oklahoma sits the Howard McLeod Correctional Center, a minimum security prison for male criminals.
"It is a concern for the people that live down there," said Atoka resident Jackie Long, who lives near the prison.
"Howard McLeod is a minimum security facility, which means that you don't have a secure perimeter," said Oklahoma Department of Corrections public information officer Jerry Massie.
Massie says escaping a minimum security facility is just a matter of walking away without being seen.
"We've lived there for almost 20 years and we've never had a problem. They've had quite a few escapees in that length of time," said resident Danny Hinkle who also lives near the facility.
News 12 has reported at least 10 inmates have escaped within the last three and a half years. Residents we spoke to tell us that's become "normal."
"They get out and run around until they get caught or picked up or whatever," said Long.
The most recent escapee, 56-year-old Kenneth Beasley, was apprehended in less than 24 hours, but his history of violent crime dates back to the 1970's, and he's currently serving time for a prior escape. Atoka County Under Sheriff Tony Taylor assisted in the search for Beasley.
News 12 asked him about Beasley's crimes, "numerous numerous numerous. And he's down here in a place that doesn't have a fence around it."
We asked Long if he thinks someone who's been charged with kidnapping should be at a minimum security facility, "No I don't! I sure don't! I don't think any violent criminal should be down there."
When we asked Massie, why Beasley was at Howard McLeod, after being convicted of a kidnapping and prior escape from custody in 1999, he told us the crimes happened a number of years ago, and they use a classification tool to decide if criminals can go to a minimum security facility, which includes the crime and length of the sentence.
"Basically you come up with a point total. Behavior while incarcerated is considered, age is considered, factors like that," said Massie.
But when we searched the DOC website for criminals currently housed at Howard McLeod, we found convicted rapists, inmates serving time for maiming and shooting with intent to kill, and some serving time for multiple prior escapes.