Crime & Courts

‘You will go to prison.’ As corrections guard is sentenced, prosecutor warns others

5 problems facing South Carolina’s prisons

Underfunded and understaffed, South Carolina's prisons have a lot of problems. Here are the five main issues facing the South Carolina Department of Corrections.
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Underfunded and understaffed, South Carolina's prisons have a lot of problems. Here are the five main issues facing the South Carolina Department of Corrections.

As the first of many South Carolina prison guards charged with corruption was sentenced in federal court Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Will Lewis had a warning for the others.

“If you’re a correctional officer in South Carolina and you are smuggling contraband, you will go to prison,” the prosecutor said.

Where it was commonplace for corrupt guards to be given probation before, Lewis said he would be seeking a year and a day in prison for most guards scheduled to appear on the court’s docket.

Joshua Ezekiel Cave was sentenced to six months in prison and six months of home incarceration in a federal courtroom Thursday morning by Judge Michelle Childs. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud for taking bribes to smuggle contraband into one of South Carolina’s prisons.

“I am disappointed in my actions,” Cave said as he and his family members waited for the sentence to be handed down. “I made a bad choice. I’m not perfect.”

Cave — a Department of Corrections employee for about nine years — was arrested in March 2018 after Department of Corrections investigators received a tip that he was bringing contraband into Allendale Correctional Institution for money.

Allendale Correctional is a medium-security prison in Fairfax that houses only inmates assigned to character-based dorms.

In exchange for bringing in contraband food and alcohol, Cave was paid about $1,250 over four months by an inmate who is serving a sentence for murder, according to his arrest warrants. Childs ordered Cave to pay a fine for that sum of money.

“There are a lot of issues going on at the Department of Corrections, and we have to rely on the public trust,” Childs said.

In April 2018, federal prosecutors announced that Cave and 13 other former corrections officers had been indicted on charges they took bribes to smuggle contraband into prisons.

Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling also addressed the court Thursday, outlining the issues caused by contraband inside of his prisons.

“A corrections officer holds a position of public trust,” Stirling said. “Josh Cave broke this trust by bringing contraband to an inmate at Allendale Correctional Institution.”

Lewis, who spoke on behalf of the government for this case, argued that Cave should have to serve about a year in prison.

“The seriousness of the offense of smuggling contraband can’t be overstated,” Lewis said.

Cave’s attorney, Joshua Koger Jr., argued that Cave had a clean history and was generally known as a good person.

“He said that was the best job he ever had, and he said he was upset that he had that period of bad judgment,” Koger said. “And that’s what it was.”

Cave asked to be placed in a federal prison located in South Carolina, which Childs agreed to do. He will report there himself at a later date.

A 10-month investigation into South Carolina’s prison system by The State Media Co. revealed that corruption among guards is commonplace. As the department took steps to keep contraband from pouring over fences and into prisons, correctional officers were walking everything from drugs to phones through the front gates.

Since 2015, the department brought more than 50 charges against its own employees for bringing contraband to inmates. To combat the issue, the Department of Corrections doubled its police force.

Staff reporter John Monk contributed to this report.

Emily Bohatch helps cover South Carolina’s government for The State. She also updates The State’s databases. Her accomplishments include winning a Green Eyeshade award in Disaster Reporting in 2018 for her teamwork reporting on Hurricane Irma. She has a degree in Journalism with a minor in Spanish from Ohio University’s E. W. Scripps School of Journalism.