Advocates for South Carolina’s incarcerated inmate population are gathering for a rally later this month in Irmo, S.C. – a town located just northwest of the state capital of Columbia, S.C. The purpose of this rally? To raise awareness of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on prisoners across the Palmetto State.
There are at least 17,000 inmates currently incarcerated within the S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDC) prison system. Another 4,200 inmates are currently incarcerated in federal prisons located within the Palmetto State.
Thousands more – perhaps as many as 10,000 – are currently behind bars in county-run detention centers.
Here is an online flyer promoting this rally …
(Click to view)
One event organizer reached out to us over the weekend to offer a preview of the gathering. According to this source, the group’s “call to action” is intended to draw attention to the personal narratives of inmates who are dealing with the ill effects of the outbreak.
One prisoner in particular is alleged to have passed away after contracting Covid-19 on top of a cancer diagnosis. This transmission allegedly took place in the infirmary at Lieber Correctional Institution in Ridgeville, S.C.
The inmate in question died on July 6, 2020 – four days after testing positive.
“They are killing these guys,” one prison reform advocate told us.
As of July 10, 2020, SCDC was reporting a total of 399 inmate infections and 177 staff infections – with 123 inmate cases and 89 staff cases classified as “cleared.” No information was immediately available for federal or local facilities. As a result, it is not immediately clear how many Covid-19 related deaths have taken place behind prison walls in the Palmetto State – nor is there any information available which would allow us to assess the seriousness of the infections that have been reported.
Of course this lack of specificity is not unique to correctional institutions. Across the nation, health agencies are churning out reams of incomplete and inconsistent information – fueling an ongoing debate over the extent to which coronavirus deaths and hospitalizations have been classified.
As for SCDC, officials say the agency has been “diligent in its efforts to protect inmates and staff.”
On Wednesday, SCDC officials issued a notification (.pdf) to detention centers across the state informing them that they would not be accepting any new male inmates prior to August 1 because “three incoming inmates at the temporary reception and evaluation center at Lieber tested positive.” Lieber has served as the primary intake center for SCDC since May, which is when several inmates at Kirkland Correction Institution – the agency’s usual intake facility – tested positive for Covid-19.
Previously, SCDC had implemented a host of mitigation efforts including limited visitation, suspension of inmate transfers (barring medical emergencies, anyway), suspension of work release programs and the curtailing of travel by agency staff in the hopes of slowing the spread of the virus.
In addition to these efforts, female offenders at Leath Correctional Institution and Graham Correctional Institution have been producing more than 1,000 masks per day for distribution to workers at SCDC, the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice (SCDJJ) and the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC).
“Our women are making surgical-type masks and covers for N-95 masks, which help them last longer,” the agency noted on its website.
This news outlet will continue to keep an eye on the status of the coronavirus outbreak behind bars in South Carolina as part of our broader Covid-19 coverage.
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