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‘Brutality’: Deadly Fight in South Carolina Prison Highlights US Prison Failings

© AFP 2022 / PHILIPPE DESMAZESA prison guard open a door during a press visit on October 14, 2015 in the new prison in Valence, southeastern France
A prison guard open a door during a press visit on October 14, 2015 in the new prison in Valence, southeastern France - Sputnik International
Seven people have died and at least 17 have been injured in an uprising at a South Carolina prison with a history of complaints. Radio Sputnik’s Loud & Clear spoke with Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News, to talk about the deadly event.

The Lee Correctional Institution in Lee County, South Carolina, erupted into chaos Sunday after what the South Carolina Department of Corrections (DOC) called "multiple inmate-on-inmate altercations" in three housing units. The Lee County Fire and Rescue said that they assisted police with the incident, while emergency medical services from four counties also reportedly responded.

​An inmate who spoke with the Associated Press said that bodies were "literally stacked on top of each other" hours after the violence, and that corrections officers and medical workers were not around.

"The things that we still don't know is — the attacks seem to be prisoners attacking other prisoners and no staff seem to be involved at this point," Wright told hosts Brian Becker and Walter Smolarek.

"It's not a surprise when we have violent events take place inside the prison — any prison in the country," South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said at a press conference Monday. State lawmakers have already countered the governor's analysis, saying that state prisons need more money for staff and security.

"Basically, American prisons suffer from overcrowding. The levels of brutality are very high among pretty much all of the players within the prison system," Wright said. "So none of this is really a surprise. Probably the bigger surprise is that this doesn't happen more often."

Complaints against the prison have been mounting in recent years. Prison reporter Jared Ware summarized the reported gripes of inmates and their families, saying that corrections officers in Lee County have put metal over windows to deny inmates lighting, "underfed imprisoned folks, they've used state militias to look for cell phones, they've sent hooded guards in to beat people in cells, they've denied drinking water."

The prison has also been plagued by violence in recent years, but the seven fatalities in an incident at the institution marks the most deadly incidents at a South Carolina prison since the uptick.

Corrections Department Director Bryan Stirling said of the prisoners at the press conference: "These folks are fighting over real money and real territory while they're incarcerated." 

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"South Carolina prison officials have been grandstanding and trying to get the FCC to do something about cellphones in their prisons — which I think is a tacit admission that they can't control the corruption among their guards; they're actually not focusing on core safety issues," Wright told Loud & Clear.

Sputnik News received photographs appearing to show the corpses of inmates at Lee Corrections Institute, but has opted not to publish them due to their highly graphic nature.

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