Gov. Henry McMaster signed an executive order Monday which would exempt South Carolina’s prisons agency from going through the normal spending and procurement rules — an effort to give the agency more flexibility after one of the deadliest prison riots in recent American history.
The order allows the state Department of Corrections (SCDC) to more quickly implement security measures along fence lines and inside the state’s correctional facilities. That includes issues such as new technology or pay bonuses.
“We believe this executive order gives (SCDC) Director (Bryan) Stirling the tools the department needs to properly compensate the brave men and women who serve our state as correctional officers,” McMaster said in a statement accompanying the order. “This order will also allow the department to expedite important security measures following the unprecedented and premeditated gang violence that occurred at the Lee Correctional Facility, facilitated by the flow of illegal contraband, namely cell phones.”
State law allows the governor to declare an emergency situation if “a danger exists to the person or property of any citizen and that the peace and tranquility of the State… is threatened.” The declaration then allows the governor to suspend certain laws as he sees fit to deal with the danger.
McMaster issued the order eight days after a fatal riot at Lee Correctional Institution led to the killing of seven inmates. Nearly two dozen more inmates were injured in the melee. The agency has previously said it struggles to hire and retain employees, particularly correctional officers, and faces 600 open positions. Monday’s order could allow the agency to offer higher overtime pay or new equipment.
Traditionally, any increases in base pay or major purchases require approval from legislative panels.
South Carolina has lobbied the Federal Communications Commission unsuccessfully to block cell phone signals at prisons. However, the FCC says it cannot act without Congress changing a 1934 law which only gives the federal government authority to block radio waves. Telecommunications companies oppose the jamming, saying it could impact neighboring property owners.