Lee prison offers inmates a chance for a brighter future, one year after deadly riots

Right now, re-entry in our state’s prison population is at an all-time low.

Lee Correctional houses about 1,200 inmates.

We previously reported on the million dollar enhancements to secure this institution.

But another important part of that security is finding purpose for the inmates themselves.

The Department of Corrections is tackling a key element to create a future that transcends prison walls.

This is where almost half of the lifers at Lee Correctional Institution choose to live out their days.

“I would rather them use their energy to be in programs and being in education so they better themselves,” says SCDC Director Brian Stirling. “They self-monitor and you can be removed from the program you don’t follow the rules but you have to apply to come in.”

It’s not for the inmates who were part of the Lee riots.

Two units remain on lockdown from that violence.

But Stirling says each inmate has a choice, both lifers or short-timers.

State officials say recidivism is at a historic low here in South Carolina.

Only 22 percent re-enter the system within three years.

That’s much lower than the national average at 68 percent.

Aparna Desai is with Lee’s “CI Education Department.”

She says, “It’s not just that they are getting educated, they are getting tools and resources.”

We saw inmates who were studying for higher diplomas, GEDs.

And other inmates in a sea of orange. Lee inmates sew all prison uniforms statewide.

Lee Warden Ken Nelson says, “Inmates that get employed down here, they do get paid and it’s one of the premier jobs here at the institution.”

There are also trade schools, brick masonry and carpentry among others.

Director Stirling says, “87 percent of the folks incarcerated get out in under five years. Don’t we want them to be better citizens and more productive when they leave? That’s absolutely the goal.”

A goal that may not be attainable for all inmates.

But there is a new goal for the Department of Corrections.

We saw a housing unit being built at Lee.

It’s in a partnership with the justice reform group – the Vera Institute.

This new unit is the first in the country with a strong emphasis on rehabilitation for inmates.

Categories: Local News, News, State