It took corrections officers nearly five hours to restore order after a disturbance broke out at a state prison in Jasper County Monday night.
South Carolina Department of Corrections spokesman Clark Newsom said the incident started after someone threw a package of contraband over the fence at the medium-security Ridgeland Correctional Institution. He said an officer caught an inmate trying to grab the package. But as the officer brought the inmate back to a holding cell, other prisoners began causing a disturbance.
Newsom said there were two officers on duty at the Beaufort Dormitory “A Wing” at the time. Both got out safely, although the officer escorting the contraband inmate was slightly bruised.
“These guys have instincts,” Newsom told South Carolina Radio Network. “When you’re only one or two people working on an area, you kind of learn when things are going okay and when there might be a problem. And he just had an instinct that somebody might be trying to jump them.”
The officers closed off the wing and the prison’s Rapid Response Unit was called in. The unit tried to negotiate with inmates to get them back into their cells. “They didn’t and we had to introduce some tear gas into the facility,” Newsom said. “It took probably three-and-a-half hours to get everybody back into the facility.”
Officers finally regained full control of the dorm around 4:30 am Tuesday. The wing is still on lockdown.
Contraband is a serious problem at prisons around the country, as outsiders are able to take advantage of lightly-guarded perimeters to throw or shoot packages over the fences. The most valuable contraband (and the one causing most headaches for prison officials) is cell phones. Newsom said he did not know what was in the package that sparked Monday’s confrontation.