SC Inmates Shipped to Mississippi Prisons

South Carolina shipped 48 “problematic” inmates to a private prison in Mississippi last week.

The transfers were made in response to an April prison riot that left seven people dead and 22 injured at Lee Correctional Institution, according to S.C. Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling.

But, only nine of the four dozen prisoners who were moved were at the Bishopville prison at the time of the riot. Officials offered no explanation as to how or why the inmates were chosen for transfer.

Stirling said an executive order signed by Gov. Henry McMaster after the riot allowed the state to move quickly with the transfers.

The transfer is not unheard of – several states move prisoners to private, out-of-state prisons because they present a security threat or because of overcrowding, a practice that prison reform advocates say hurts prisoners, their families, and, indirectly, the communities where they will live when they are released.

But, no one has been able to answer this for me:

What gives South Carolina authority to send prisoners to be housed in another jurisdiction when they do not have pending charges or convictions in the other jurisdiction?

The Deadliest Prison Riot in A Quarter-Century

On April 15, fights broke out in three separate dorms at Lee Correctional. Prison officials said the violence was gang-related, and that inmates in the dorm where the fights started used contraband cell phones to alert prisoners in the other dorms, so they could join in.

“These folks are fighting over real money and real territory while they’re incarcerated,” Stirling said.

In videos recorded by inmates on illegal cell phones during the riot, some prisoners walk the cellblock with knives in their hands, while others lie in pools of blood.

One inmate who was stabbed 14 times gave a first-hand account of the riot in a personal injury lawsuit he has filed against SCDOC. Randy Mast, who spent several days in a hospital after the riot, said groups of masked inmates carrying knives, ice picks, and axes attacked others.

One inmate who was stabbed fell to the floor “with blood gushing from the neck wound,” Mast said in the lawsuit.

SC’s Cost-Cutting Efforts May Have Caused Serious Security Problems

The prisoner transfer and the deadly riot seem to be the result of SC’s efforts to slash millions of dollars from its prisons budget.

Since 2016, the state has closed three maximum-security prisons, reduced the number of mental health programs designed to rehabilitate inmates, eliminated a range of activities meant to keep prisoners busy, and increasingly housed more violent inmates together with non-violent prisoners with fewer guards.

The result – SC now has one of the cheapest prison systems in the nation. It also has one of the most dangerous for inmates and for prison employees.

The state’s prisons have also struggled to prevent keep contraband out of correctional facilities – several people, including prison guards and visitors, have been arrested for smuggling in banned goods.

The governor’s executive order seems to be aimed, at least in part, at reversing some of these trends by allowing prison officials to:

  • Fill hundreds of staff vacancies quickly by waiving state hiring regulations;
  • Increase salaries and overtime pay opportunities to retain prison staff;
  • Quickly introduce new security measures, such as nets stretched over fences to prevent contraband from being thrown on prison grounds; and
  • Hire a drone pilot to patrol prison grounds.

Charleston, SC Criminal Defense Firm

If you have been charged with a crime in South Carolina, call Charleston criminal defense attorney Grant B. Smaldone now at (843) 808-2100 or email us to set up a free consultation about your case to find out how we can help.