Famous prison activist Bobby Battle, whose 30-year-old lawsuit brought prison reforms to the State of Oklahoma, is dead. The prison lawyer died on December 25 at the age of 80.
Many Oklahomans are grateful to Battle for his activism which led to desegregation in Oklahoma prisons.
The 1970s: Desegregating Oklahoma’s State Prisons
Bobby Battle Led 20 Prison Inmates in Suit for Rights Violations
It all started in 1970 after Battle saw a prison officer severely maltreat a prison inmate. He filed a petition at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary (OSP) and was subsequently sent to prison for two months.
Following his release, Battle began to research prison injustices and filed a lawsuit that changed the face of Oklahoma justice system after a 30-year deliberation.
A native of Oklahoma City with only a sixth-grade education, in 1981, Battle played down his role in changing the state’s penal system. According to him:
“If it hadn’t been me, it would have been someone else. There would have been someone else.”
Battle had led 20 other prison inmates in Muskogee to file lawsuits alleging human rights violations in 1972. A federal judge contacted Stephen Jones, an attorney, to represent Battle as the lead plaintiff of the group.
FBI Found Oklahoma State Prison Guilty of Multiple Infractions
After nine months of investigations in 1974, the Federal Bureau of Investigation looked into the lawsuit and found that OSP, based out of McAlester, was guilty of:
- Racial segregation
- Racial discrimination
- Inadequate medical resources
- Restricting inmates’ access to law library and legal materials
- Unconstitutionally restricting mails coming in for inmates
- Assaulting inmates
- Using chemical agents on inmates
- Selling ice cubes to inmates for as much as 25 cents each
The Justice Department together with four other prison inmates joined the lawsuit and it was ruled in favor of Bobby Battle on March 15, 1974. This lawsuit pended in a Muskogee federal court for 30 years. It was the most expensive prison lawsuit in the state.
A 1999 settlement award was issued by a federal judge. But in 2000 Battle led other inmates to trials on medical care in Oklahoma state prisons.
Bobby Battle Is an Unsung Hero for the OK Prison System
Jones hailed Bobby Battle as an unsung hero for prison reform in the State of Oklahoma. He added that despite his low level of literacy, he stood up to the government and did what he thought was best for everyone.
Jones said of Battle:
“He must have just had native intelligence, one of those people who was educated even though they have poor formal education. Bobby just taught himself about federal civil rights and prison reform and the cases and went forward.”
The Pollard Funeral Homes revealed that famous Oklahoma prison reform advocate Bobby Battle died on Christmas Day.
He was interred at House of Prayer, located at Oklahoma City’s east side, on Saturday December 30 after a private memorial service.