In the aftermath of the nation’s worst prison riot since 1993, a group of South Carolina legislators say they have received troubling graphic images and texts that raise concerns about the welfare of inmates and employees at Lee Correctional Institution.
The five lawmakers said in a letter Thursday to state corrections director Bryan Stirling that they also want to check the veracity of reports that inmates at Lee Correctional have not been getting regular meals and have not been allowed to shower since Sunday’s nearly eight-hour riot that left seven prisoners dead and 22 others injured. No guards were injured.
Rep. Justin Bamberg, one of the representatives, told The Crime Report he received communications from family members of some inmates alleging poor conditions at the prison. The prison is still on lockdown, he said, and inmates are confined to their cells.
In response to the letter, Stirling said the group of lawmakers could visit the facility. No date has been set for the visit.
The lawmakers want Stirling’s office to disclose how many showers and meals prisoners have received in the five days since the riot; whether or not they are receiving medications, including those prescribed for mental health; and whether inmates and officers who witnessed the violence are receiving counseling.
The letter requests an answer to these questions by Friday.
“In the wake of the violence, much attention has been drawn to cell phones by you and Governor [Henry] McMaster,” the letter reads, referring to the officials’ claim Monday that contraband cell phones were a driving factor of the violence.
“However, we believe there may be more pressing problems regarding the security of inmates and SCDC [South Carolina Department of Corrections] employees.”
One image Bamberg shared with The Crime Report, which he says was taken by an inmate on Thursday and texted to him directly, suggests little has been done to clean up the prison in the wake of the riot. The photograph appears to show a giant pile of garbage in the middle of the floor of a cell block, with more strewn around the hallways outside the cells.
Bamberg says that he has continued to receive disturbing texts, images and video from inmates and their families since Sunday. During the incident, many prisoners attempted to hide in their unlocked cells, with the lights off, doing anything they could to keep from being dragged out and stabbed, he said.
One inmate apparently managed to communicate with his mother from a cell phone when the violence erupted Sunday evening. He described hiding in his cell with nine other people who took turns holding the door shut, three at a time.
At Stirling’s request, the Association of State Correctional Administrators is putting together an independent team to investigate the riot, reports the Post and Courier. The review will be led by former Texas corrections director Brad Livingston.
The incident at Lee Correctional was the deadliest outbreak of violence in prison since 1993, when over 400 prisoners rioted in the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, killing nine inmates and one guard over the course of 11 days.
Victoria Mckenzie is Deputy Editor of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.