Passing the Pressure: Local jails may see more inmates to relieve SC prison population

The Investigators

CHARLESTON, SC, (WCBD)– 7 inmates died and 22 others were injured during a riot at Lee Correctional Institution in April 2018.

South Carolina Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said the brutal fight was over money, territory and contraband but, in the weeks after the riot, reports found staffing issues played a role.

WCBD-Lee Correctional Institution_193569
Lee Correctional Bishopville, SC

According to SCDC, It took the department more than 3 hours to mobilize and respond to the riot because there were not enough officers at the facility to safely control the situation. 

Stirling said it is protocol for correction officers to remove themselves from the situation if they are outnumbered.

As a result of the deadly riot, legislators ordered an independent audit of the South Carolina Department of Corrections.

The Legislative Audit Council conducted the audit to analyze agency policies regarding security, litigation costs, human resources’ areas, and inmate incidents.

Audit Objectives:

  • Review SCDC’s security policies, internal controls, and classification system to determine their adequacy and if they align with national best practices.
  • Review human resources’ issues, including, hiring, retention, training, work environment, and corrective actions.
  • Review the consistency and transparency of reporting of various indicators, including performance measures, types of contraband, types of incidents, etc. to determine if improvement is needed.
  • Report on the litigation costs and determine what, if any, trends are identified for lawsuits filed by employees and/or inmates.

One of the recommendations listed in the audit would increase the minimum sentence for entry to SCDC to decrease the prison population.

Currently, inmates sentenced to more than 91 days are transferred to a state prison but according to the report, that threshold is the lowest in the country.

The majority of states have a 1-year minimum. The proposal to amend the law would mean inmates sentenced less than a year would remain in local jails, increasing the jail population.

Berkeley County Sheriff Duane Lewis said he does not have the capacity to house more inmates.

“I can’t do that,” said Sheriff Lewis. “I cannot house those type of inmates. when they are sentenced I am sending them to Columbia as soon as possible, he added.”

The rated capacity for the Hill Finklea Detention Center is 291 inmates. According to Berkeley County Detention Center Administrator Randy Demory, there were 425 inmates booked in the jail as of Tuesday.

“You are dealing with people waiting to be tried for murder, aggravated assault, robbery, drugs,” Lewis said. “The more of those people you pack in there the more issues it creates,” he continued.

In addition, Berkeley County contracts Charleston County to house 49 inmates at the cost of $55 dollars per day. The temporary overflow solution cost Berkeley County taxpayers $825,435 last fiscal year.

Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon battles a different issue.

“We have the space. We don’t have the staff so that would be a real challenge for us,” said Cannon.

According to a Charleston County Sheriff’s Office spokesman, the Al Cannon Detention Center has 376 detention deputy positions. There are currently 89 detention deputy vacancies.

“We have done everything we can think of to recruit and retain good, qualified people,” said Cannon.

Both sheriff’s agreed the proposal could be beneficial for other counties who have space and staffing.

The proposal is currently under review. Legislators will ultimately decide if they are interested in amending the law.

It’s unclear if SCDC would pay the counties for the added cost of more inmates or if the program would be optional.

An SCDC spokeswoman said they are still researching the impact the change would have on operations.

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