Former Oklahoma inmate who led prisons lawsuit dies at 80

December 29, 2017

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Bobby Battle, a former Oklahoma inmate whose decades-long lawsuit against the Department of Corrections sparked major reforms in the state’s prison system, has died at the age of 80.

Battle’s daughter, Jasmine Battle, said her father died Monday at a hospital in Midwest City after suffering from pneumonia in recent weeks.

Battle filed the lawsuit in 1972 while an inmate at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester over conditions at the prison. Before it went to trial, one of the worst prison riots in U.S. history broke out at the penitentiary that left three inmates dead and more than 20 injured.

The lawsuit, which ultimately became a class-action suit, led to the racial desegregation of prisons in Oklahoma, as well as changes in the use of confinement, punishment and medical care of inmates, among other things.

Despite his lack of a formal education, Battle’s lawsuit was articulate and well-prepared, said Stephen Jones, the initial lead attorney in the case.

“It was a well-argued document. It had lots of facts and specifics in it. He had some case law. Bobby was a smart man,” Jones recalled. “He wasn’t formally educated, but he had kind of an innate ... sense of knowing something wasn’t right.

“He was an important part of Oklahoma history, and little known.”

After his release from prison, Battle hosted a radio talk-show in Oklahoma City and helped advocate for inmate rights, Jasmine Battle said.

“One thing that will always stick with me is how he tried to get people to register to vote,” Jasmine Battle said. “He always said that’s how we fix the judicial and legislative systems ... through voting, and that’s something that I always learned from my father.”

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