South Carolina House Democrats on Tuesday called for an investigation into the state Department of Corrections (SCDC) after seven inmates died and nearly two dozen more were hurt in a Sunday night riot at the Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville.
State Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, said that the situation at SCDC is at a critical level. “To call on a complete investigation by the legislative oversight committee to determine what I believe some of what is already known,” the candidate for governor said. “Whether or not the conditions in our prisons, not just at Lee Correctional Institution, but all across our state are at a crisis.”
SCDC has said for years it suffers from inadequate staffing as violence continues to escalate in state prison facilities.
House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, said the current situation at SCDC is unacceptable. “This is not a proper working condition for anyone in South Carolina. This is proper conditions for anyone, anyone who is incarcerated in this state,” Rutherford said. He made a “Shawshank Redemption” comparison to Gov. Henry McMaster’s comments that it’s “no surprise” violent events occur in a maximum-security prison.
“According to our governor, who must live watching ‘Shawshank Redemption every night, this is the way prison life is supposed to be,” he said.
McMaster made the comment while blaming the prison’s ongoing struggle with contraband cell phones. SCDC Director Bryan Stirling blamed Sunday’s fight on gang-related activity that was aided by the illegal phones. Stirling has spent years asking the FCC for permission to jam phone signals in SCDC prisons. However, telecommunications companies say they are concerned the jamming technology could impact neighboring properties.