Crime & Courts

'Cellphones didn't kill 7': SC prison warden should step down after riot, group says

The warden of a South Carolina prison where seven inmates died during a riot needs to step down, and the FBI needs to open an investigation, the National Action Network said Tuesday.

The calls came during a press conference outside Lee Correctional Institution, where seven inmates were killed and 17 others injured during a nearly-eight-hour-long brawl Sunday night and Monday morning.

"This is a tragedy," said Elder James Johnson, of the civil rights organization's S.C. chapter. "The burden of this lies at the feet of the warden and the state of South Carolina."

Johnson said the group is calling for the prison's warden, Aaron Joyner, to step down, and for an FBI investigation. He did not specify what about the prison they want the FBI to investigate.

There also were calls for prison reform.

"There must be some kind of prison reform here because of what's going on with mass incarceration in this state, or we will continue to have these issues," said Jackie Yadon, director of operations for the S.C. chapter of the National Action Network.

Pastor Thomas Dixon, of The Coalition — People United to Take Back Our Community, said he served time in prison. He was disappointed in Monday's press conference by Gov. Henry McMaster, corrections director Bryan Stirling and SLED Chief Mark Keel.

"For 16 minutes, all they talked about was a problem, which is the cellphone jamming," Dixon said. "We have a problem that needs to be addressed, and we're not going to let the governor (and) the director of SCDC continue to just deflect onto the idea of cellphones. That's a problem and it needs to be handled, but cellphones didn't kill seven or wound 17."

Stirling and McMaster have called on Congress to change a law that prohibits the use of technology to jam cellphone signals, which Stirling said will help prevent inmates from operating illegal enterprises and curb outbreaks of violence.

Speakers at Tuesday's news conference balked at the idea that cellphones are to blame for the deadly fight.

Dixon said prisons need to offer more sources for rehabilitation for inmates.

"As taxpaying citizens, we should expect that those that are going into our prison system are going to have some sort of rehabilitation done while they're there," he said, "instead of just coming in, getting three hots and a cot and being released out into society as a threat to society."

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