Monday, April 15, marks 1 year since one of the most deadliest prison riots in South Carolina history. More than a dozen inmates were seriously hurt and several others were killed after a fight at Lee Correctional Institution.
7 inmates were killed and 22 others were hurt during that fight, but the Department of Corrections has been working over the past 12 months to put in new security measurures to make sure an incident like that doesn’t happen again.
Director Bryan Stirling said the fight was linked to territory and contraband, which has been a recurring problem for the deaprtment.
Stirling explained, “It’s not the root of all evil. You know sometimes folks don’t get a long and they’ll have a fight, but the cell phones help contraband because they can coordinate, they can pay and that’s a problem.”
Since the fight last April, SCDC has been working to keep contraband and cell phones out of the hands of inmates. The department has upgraded cell phone scanners, installed high netting, and improved door locking systems.
Many of the prisons with SCDC still operate on a lock and key mechanism. However, one of the dorms at Lee Correctional used a different system that had some faults.
“We had air handling systems basically that folks could easily defeat and now we’re going to put in an electro magnetic system that can’t be easily defeated. This won’t be something that they can just push open,” added Director Stirling.
The department has also created a travel team. The team would allow prisons like Lee Correctional to fill in gaps if there’s a shortage of staff.
It took the department more than 3 hours to mobilize and respond to the last year’s fight because there were not enough officers at the facility to end the fight.
Stirling continued, “For example, if Lee calls headquarters and says we’re down a couple officers we’ll send a team there. If evans or Broad River, eventually there will be 30 people that will be apart of that team that will go out.”
4000 officers and staff with the department have been trained in incident command repsonse and the department is also hiring mental health officers. The hybrid position would serve more than 25% of SCDC’s prison population that suffers from mental illness.
Director Stirling says the final report from the investigation into the deadly fight has been completed and is in the process of being handed over to the Lee County solicitor.
Once the Lee County solicitor and Attorney General’s Office look through the report, charges could be drafted up for those involved in the fight.