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Prison riot was about ‘territory,’ SC official says

Jail cells (Pixabay/Released)

The riot at Lee Correctional Institution Sunday night that left seven inmates dead was a gang battle over territory, contraband and cellphones, South Carolina Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said Monday.

Gov. Henry McMaster said the violence, while unfortunate, should be expected sometimes in prisons, where violent people are locked up for rehabilitation and to protect the public.

“It’s not a surprise when we have violent events take place inside the prison — any prison in the country,” McMaster said during an 18-minute-long briefing for reporters on the Lee Correctional riot.

The deadly fights, which spanned across three separate dorms, likely were gang-related over factors outside of the prison, Stirling said during Monday afternoon’s news conference.

“These folks are fighting over real money and real territory while they’re incarcerated,” Stirling said, adding officials suspect cellphones were used to inform inmates in the second and third dorms that a fight had broken out in the first.

Stirling called for the Federal Communications Commission and cellphone companies to work with the Department of Corrections to block cellphone signal in prisons, something he said could help curb violent incidents.

McMaster echoed Stirling’s demand, calling for the FCC to get rid of laws prohibiting cellphone jamming in prisons.

“Jamming those cellphone signals will do a lot,” McMaster said. “It’s an absolute outrage that that is the law … and we’re doing our best to see that FCC law is changed and changed as quick as possible.”

The violence and inmate deaths at Lee Correctional come as the state’s Department of Corrections faces high turnover and vacancies among its staffers, and is engaged in a public campaign to recruit corrections officers.

Asked whether he will recommend any other changes at the state’s prisons, McMaster said an investigation is underway that may produce ideas for reforms.

“We have rules and regulations, we have protocols, we have training, and there’s an enormous effort made to be sure that these kinds of things do not happen or are kept at a minimum. It’s unfortunate when they do happen, but this is one of the instances when they did.”


© 2018 The State (Columbia, S.C.)

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