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Lancaster Prison Warden Ousted

Removal comes after a ribald comedy show was presented to minimum- security inmates.

November 30, 2005|Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writer

The warden at the state prison in Lancaster was removed from his job this week after officials learned that a sexually explicit comedy performance containing racially offensive material was presented to inmates earlier this year.

Charles Michael Harrison was demoted to associate warden in the aftermath of the May 4 show after a guard complained to authorities in Sacramento.

The whistleblower, Lt. Charles Hughes, said in a letter to the prison department that Harrison had allowed comedians who had appeared on cable channels Comedy Central and BET to perform a show filled with profanity, racial and religious slurs, as well as crude jokes about sex and drug use.

Hughes stated that at one point, the male comics asked inmates how many packs of cigarettes a woman would be worth, referring to two female corrections employees. The women were offended and left after the comment, said Hughes, who is a union representative. Also during the performance, a female comic wore a sexual device, he said in his letter.

Prison managers "should have stopped the show and explained that that type of behavior is unacceptable in a State Correctional Facility," Hughes wrote in the letter.

Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections, said the agency was conducting an internal investigation of the comedy performance, which was videotaped. It will be discussed at a hearing next week sponsored by Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez (D-Norwalk), chairman of the Select Committee on Prison Construction and Operations, who is looking into alleged incidents of sexual harassment throughout the correctional system.

Harrison, 46, could not be reached for comment.

State officials determined recently that Harrison was found "not qualified" to continue his job after a formal review was conducted by the state Office of the Inspector General, said Lancaster prison spokesman Ken Lewis. Harrison, who had been serving as warden on a temporary basis, then withdrew his request to keep the job permanently.

Officials refused to say if the controversy over the comedy show had anything to do with Harrison's departure.

"He had gone through the warden vetting process, but I can't comment on why he withdrew," said Brett Morgan, a spokesman for the inspector general's office, which oversees the state's correctional system.

The prison houses about 4,500 minimum, high-medium and maximum custody inmates. It opened in 1993. The show was held for about 300 minimum-security inmates.

The prison holds two or three entertainment events each year, including musical performances and comedy shows.

Hughes said investigators from the state inspector general's office interviewed him a few weeks ago.

Since he filed the complaint, Hughes himself was put on administrative leave while prison officials investigate the death of a prisoner at the hands of a fellow inmate that Hughes allegedly witnessed. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Times staff writer Jenifer Warren contributed to this report.

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