COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - In the wake of an attack that left four inmates dead and two others facing murder charges, South Carolina leaders are weighing in on what this could mean for the Department of Corrections moving forward.
Arrest warrants show Denver Simmons and Jacob Philip confessed to luring John King, Jason Kelley, Jimmy Ham and William Scruggs one by one. An autopsy report reveals they strangled the men, killing them over the span of about 30 minutes.
Questions still linger, however, about how this didn't attract the attention of guards, where within Kirkland this happened, and why these men were being housed together.
After requesting the number of guards, the Department of Corrections says Kirkland Correctional Institution currently has 296 security positions, while it houses about 1,600 inmates.
Currently, Kirkland has a 14.6 percent vacancy rate for security positions and 30 percent vacancies department-wide. Those staffing shortages have been a regular discussion for the state senate's Corrections and Penology Committee.
"It's a very big priority. I think we need to recognize it more so than we have in the past. I mean with things like this happening, we can't continue to let that happen," Senator Katrina Shealy said.
Shealy went on to say that blame for the incident shouldn't lie solely with the Department of Corrections. Instead, the Senator hopes to see it open up a discussion about mental health in the state.
So far, we know at least one of the inmates involved was battling mental illness.
"We're going to look back on this and find that when we investigate this picture that South Carolina needs to take our mental health situation more seriously," Shealy said.
Shealy said South Carolina doesn't have enough treatment facilities to assist people with mental illness. Instead, she argued many spend time in hospitals before being released back into the community and often into trouble.
"They end up committing a crime or getting in trouble. Then they end up in the correction facility or with the Department of Corrections," Shealy said. "That's not where we need to treat the mentally ill people of South Carolina."
According to the Department of Corrections, 16 percent of South Carolina inmates have a mental illness.
More than a decade ago, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released a special report showing 1.2 million people with mental illness were behind bars. That number was only expected to grow, straining the system, according to the National Institute of Corrections.
At a news briefing Friday, Governor Henry McMaster echoed the belief that the Department of Corrections shouldn't be responsible for the attack.
"Director Stirling is doing an excellent job and there's hardly an agency in the state that has all the money it needs. We have pressing needs - one of them, of course, is roads. Director Stirling is doing an excellent job on innovative programs."
Tragically things happen in our state that are very difficult to control.
"Again, it's tragic. The loss of any life is tragic. But I'm confident Director Stirling and his staff are doing what they can to make sure these things don't happen. But we are sorry for any loss of life," Governor Henry McMaster said.
SLED continues to investigate.