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Oklahoma inmates sue Gov. Fallin, parole board over unsafe conditions

OKLAHOMA CITY - A group of Oklahoma inmates filed a lawsuit against Gov. Mary Fallin in federal court on Thursday.

The lawsuit alleges unfair parole hearings and corruption among top Oklahoma lawmakers.

According to recent data, Oklahoma incarcerates women at a higher rate than any other state in the country. Also, there are more African-American men behind bars in Oklahoma per capita than anywhere else in the United States.

According to the plaintiffs and the All In One Project advocacy group, Oklahoma prisons are the most dangerous in the country.

"Oklahoma has the highest homicide rate in of in the country," said criminal justice reform advocate Gwendolyn Fields. "We incarcerate more African-American males than anywhere in the country. One out of every 15 black men is in prison."

According to plaintiffs in the lawsuit, not only does Oklahoma lock up more people than in any other state, but lawmakers have an interest in keeping inmates incarcerated.

Parole rates have been historically low under Fallin, just 10 percent of eligible inmates are paroled each year.

"You have an aging population, people who are 60, 65 years old who have been in prison for decades. Statistically, we know they are not a risk to public safety," Fields said.

Fields blames prison overcrowding on Fallin's cozy relationship with two large private prison operators.

In recent years, lawmakers have guaranteed 98 percent occupancy to private prisons operating in Oklahoma.

Fields walked the lawsuit into Fallin's office Thursday morning.

"She along with other top legislators have been incentivized by private prisons through campaign contributions and other gifts and, for that reason, she continues to lock up black and brown people. Then they close the doors and obstruct access," Fields said.

The group has petitioned the US Department of Justice to intervene, and they expect more inmates to join their lawsuit in the coming months.

Fallin's spokesperson, Michael McNutt, released the following statement regarding the lawsuit:

"The governor’s office has a general policy of not commenting on pending litigation. The matter has been referred to the attorney general’s office. The governor’s office is confident the attorney general's office will competently defend this issue."

Department of Corrections spokesperson, Mark Myers, declined to comment because the litigation is ongoing.

The All InOne Project is a grassroots membership organization dedicated to advocating for individuals serving long-term prison sentences, to ensure they are treated fairly within the system and receive meaningful opportunities for rehabilitation and release.