House Democrats Call For Prison Reform After Lee Correctional Incident
Columbia, SC (WOLO)– Democratic Representatives in the House are speaking out after seven prisoners were found dead and 17 were injured at Lee Correctional Institute. Dozens of representatives held a press conference demanding change for more funding, increasing employment, and treatment of prisoners in the state. The lawmakers said they were disgusted with the stories they heard coming out of Lee Correctional Institution, but they were really upset with Governor Henry McMaster’s response to the situation.
More than 20 representatives expressed their disapproval of comments made by the governor the day after the prison riots. Governor McMaster said prisons are places for people who misbehave, and these violent people are going to continue to be violent in prison.
“It’s not a surprise when we have violent events happen in a prison. Any prison in the country,” McMaster said.
“According to our governor, things just happen. According to our governor who must live watching Shawshank Redemption every night, this is the way prison life is supposed to be. Our Governor is ill-informed and he needs to go because of it,” Rep. Todd Rutherford said, (D) Richland County.
“Just because someone is an inmate and may have done a horrible crime, you can’t forget that they’re a human being. And they are serving their debt to society. And as an inmate in the South Carolina Department of Correction, you still have civil rights. And that is the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment,” Rep. Justin Bamberg said, (D) Bamberg, Barnwell & Colleton Counties.
Representatives say the low wages for correction officers contribute to the more than 600 personnel deficit in the prisons. According to Representative Smith, the number of inmates killed in prison has doubled since 2017, and in the past two years, it has quadrupled.
Representative Will Wheeler, (D) Kershaw, Lee & Sumter Counties, represents the district which Lee Correctional is in, and said even though the governor is spearheading banning cell phones and other contraband in prisons, that is not the only solution.
“While things like cell phones and contraband certainly play a role in it, the more important thing, I believe, is the chronic underfunding and the chronic vacancies that exist in our prison systems,” Wheeler said.
The events Sunday evening has also sparked a debate on human rights and treatment of those incarcerated in South Carolina Prisons, many saying it is not fair to the inmates to fear for their lives while trying to pay their debt to society. Representative Ott also said there is a number of inmates who are in Lee Correction who do not necessarily belong there, but there is not enough space for them anywhere else.
“The events of last Sunday cannot happen in 2018 in South Carolina and should never happen again,” Rep. James Smith said, (D) Richland County.