After Lee Correctional prison riot, activists demand change to prison system
More than five months after what some believe was the most deadly prison riot in the last 25 years, inmates across eight South Carolina correctional institutions are still under lockdown, according to a state Department of Corrections spokesman.
Prisoners living in 25-and-a-half prison units out of 37 across the state are confined to their cells for the majority of the day and have been since mid-April, something the ACLU of South Carolina compared to solitary confinement.
“I am likening it to that because there is no sunlight, there is no outside, there is no activity,” ACLU Executive Director Shaundra Scott said. “There is nothing but the crushing of hope of any and all kinds. Being in that situation, I couldn’t imagine.”
The lockdown was put in place shortly after the April 15 riot at Lee Correctional Institution in which seven inmates died and 22 were documented as injured, SCDC spokesman Dexter Lee said. The lockdown is considered a “safety and security measure” in response to the incident, he added.
“Lockdowns are a means of securing the prisons and not a form of punishment,” Lee said.
Of the 21 institutions managed by the S.C. Department of Corrections, 13 are not on lockdown as of early September, Lee said. All but one maximum security prison and many medium security prisons still have at least some units on the modified security measure, including the following:
- Three out of six units at Broad River Correctional Institution
- Five out of five units at Evans Correctional Institution
- Four out of five units at Kershaw Correctional Institution
- Three out of six units at Lee Correctional Institution
- Three and a half out of five units at Lieber Correctional Institution
- Three out of four units at McCormick Correctional Institution
- Four out of six units at Turbeville Correctional Institution
Inmates in lockdown situation spend most of the day in their cells, either alone or with a roommate, Lee said. They are allowed out for visitation, phone calls, showers, food service, work, programs and medical care.
Lee would not specify how many hours a day inmates spend in a cell.
According to Scott, some have reported to the ACLU of South Carolina that time spent in cells during lockdown can run up to 23 hours in a day, much like a prisoner placed in solitary confinement.
“We definitely have concerns in the way that the inmates have been treated and are continuing to be treated,” Scott said.
The U.S. Department of Justice released a report under the Obama administration that called solitary confinement “severe” and defined it as removing an inmate from the general prison population and locking them in a cell for more than 22 hours a day by themselves or with a roommate.
The report called for the practice to be “used rarely, applied fairly, and subjected to reasonable constraints.”
“In some systems, the conditions can be severe; the social isolation, extreme,” the report reads. “At its worst, and when applied without regard to basic standards of decency, restrictive housing can cause serious, long-lasting harm.”
The report also called for governments to never use solitary confinement as a default solution, and laid out guidelines saying institutions should increase all time spent outside of cells during solitary.
The ACLU of South Carolina called for the end of the lockdown spawned by the riot at Lee Correctional, which most inmates affected by the procedure weren’t involved in, Scott said.
She also expressed concerns about the ongoing investigation into the deadly riot, which has not publicly produced any results or charges as of mid-September.
“I feel that at this point, the investigation should have yielded those kind of answers and everybody shouldn’t be on lockdown because the corrections department of South Carolina doesn’t have the money to pay for well-trained corrections officers,” Scott said.