One year after fatal riot killed 7 inmates, changes are underway at Lee Correctional Institution

Published: Apr. 10, 2019 at 9:30 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The riot on the night of April 15th of last year at Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville claimed 7 lives and injured more than 20 others.

WIS got the unique opportunity to tour the prison with the Director of the Department of Corrections Bryan Stirling to see what’s changed and to see some of the measures the department is taking to make sure what happened that fateful night doesn’t happen again.

Contraband cell phones were determined to be instrumental in planning the riot that reportedly erupted between rival gangs.

“One of the things that we need to do is we need to be able to block the cell phone signal,” Stirling said in an interview. “The folks that are incarcerated, I want them to talk with her loved ones. I want them to have that communication, but as you’ve seen with the arrests and some of the stuff they been doing behind bars, we should be able to block that system.”

In the meantime, Lee Correctional has installed mobile cell phone detection towers with alarms, which detect the presence of cellular signals, they have added drones, netting, and a body scanner at the main entrance.

The prison has also implemented a managed access cellular system that only allows certain cell phones on a detailed list, to dial in and out of the facility.

Inside dormitory F5, where the riot broke out last year, the prison is changing the entire lock system in that unit from pneumatic or "air powered" locks, to electronic locks. The pneumatic lock system failed during the April 2018 riot, allowing the inmates to escape the cells and overpower the guards on duty.

All of the upgrades total into the millions of dollars and Stirling says they are making a difference.

"It's just it's an effort and it's not gonna stop. we know that whatever we do- (the inmates) are going to try to find a countermeasure. So we're going to have to try to find a countermeasure also."

He also pointed out changes to the landscape behind the prison that he feels will make a big difference.

"You can see the netting, we have razor wire out there so folks can't come up and collect contraband. You can see cameras back there to see what's going on, you can see we cut a bunch of trees down and pushed the perimeter back."

Stirling also says SLED has finished their investigation into the April 2018 riot- and will turn the report over to the Attorney General and Solicitor this week.

The findings and possible charges, as a result, will likely come soon after. We will bring you updates as we receive them.

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