Seven inmates were killed and 17 others injured in a series of fights at Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina on Sunday night and Monday morning.
Prisoners, armed with makeshift knives, battled for nearly eight hours overnight, and prohibited cellphones reportedly added to the riot. In the aftermath, South Carolina authorities called on the U.S. government to change federal law and allow them to jam prisoners’ cellphone signals.
South Carolina prisons Chief Bryan Stirling said, “These folks are fighting over real money and real territory while they’re incarcerated.
An inmate, speaking to The Associated Press on cellphone Monday, said that bodies were “literally stacked on top of each other.” He described the fight, saying, “I just saw three dead on the sidewalk outside of my unit. One guy is still alive and breathing, but just barely.”
Following the attack, the prisoner told the AP that “The COs (corrections officers) never even attempted to render aid, nor quell the disturbance. They just sat in the control bubble, called the issue in, then sat on their collective asses.”
The inmate sent messages on the condition of anonymity, since cellphones are prohibited. No prison personnel were injured in the fights.
Gov. Henry McMaster also blamed the inability to block prisoner’s cellphones signals as a major contributor to such coordinated incidents.
“There are prisons around the country — state prisons, federal prisons all — that would be safer with this jamming,” he said.
Lee Correctional Institution has been called one of the most dangerous in the country, and past riots at the prison caused politicians from both sides of the aisle to look at funding for corrections as a bigger priority in the state.
Last month, a corrections officer at Lee was held hostage; another prisoner was killed by a fellow inmate in February; and in 2012, a guard was attacked by prisoners while escorting a female nurse through the facility.
During the 2012 incident, inmates used their cellphones to call 911 and make demands.
Now, corrections officers aren’t taking any more chances.
Stirling said, “We will gather a force that is safe, and we will go in and take that dorm back with force. We are not going to put our officers and other staff in harm’s way.”