COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Prisons in South Carolina are grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the hardest hit facility is in the Midlands.
South Carolina Department of Corrections data shows the Broad River Correctional Institution leads all other facilities with 329 active cases among its inmates as of Sept. 7.
Twenty-eight employees are also in quarantine.
The department reports that earlier in September, one inmate at Broad River died from the virus.
As of Sept. 7, 17 inmates and 24 staff in the facility have recovered from the virus.
Statewide, the data shows 1,020 active inmate cases and 104 active staff cases.
As far as recoveries across the state, data shows 866 inmates have been cleared, as have 346 staffers.
One woman reached out to WIS about her friend inside Broad River, and expressed her concerns about conditions inside the facility.
WIS is keeping her identity, and the identity of the inmate, private over concerns of retaliation.
She said the COVID-19 pandemic has stretched an already undermanned staff, and basic services are taking a hit.
“They’re short staffed, they don’t even have anybody to deliver the canteen on a regular basis like they’re supposed to,” she said.
She went on to call the food inmates are receiving “horrible” and “inedible.”
The woman also expressed concern about a lack of social distancing in showers and overcrowding within the prison.
“When you have somebody that you care about in this prison system, you realize their daily struggle,” she said. “You’re in there with them. You feel like you’re emotionally in there with them. You feel so helpless there’s nothing you can do.”
She advocated for SC House Bill 3322, which would institute sentencing reform and potentially reduce prison populations.
It was scheduled for debate before the pandemic began.
In an email, SCDC’s Director of Communications Chrysti Shain said all their facilities are struggling with manpower, but the SC National Guard and other divisions are helping fill the gaps.
She said the department is mass testing the inmate population at Broad River and other facilities to isolate positive inmates and curb the spread.
She sent a statement that reads in part:
“Our officers have worked incredibly hard during the COVID-19 pandemic. For the most part, the inmates also have worked hard to keep everything clean and safe. When the covid pandemic first hit, we limited access to our institutions to critical staff only. Teachers and program staff worked remotely. That meant correctional officers had to do all of the jobs inside the institution. Also, if inmate workers got sick, officers had to step in. As staff members tested positive or had to quarantine because of exposure, staff from other divisions and wardens are working in kitchens and manning posts. Our staffs work as teams and they have been extremely dedicated to keeping the inmates and the public safe. It has been a true team effort to stay healthy and safe.”
She also sent a series of bullets about SCDC’s COVID-19 measures:
a. All inmates have been given two masks – one to wear and one to wash. If masks need to be replaced, institutions have new ones. Inmates and staff are required to wear them unless they have a medical condition that precludes them from safely doing so.
b. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is available to inmates. Our cleaners are certified by the CDC to kill the coronavirus. Both are kept on living units and given to inmates when requested.
c. All inmates have access to soap. We also have a partnership with inmate advocacy group Hearts for Inmates to donate bars of soap to inmates across our institutions.
d. Inmates have been taught about social distancing. Obviously, it’s harder to do in dorms where people share rooms in close quarters. Institutions have markers on the walkways six feet apart where inmates have to wait in lines. Classrooms and cafeterias made accommodations for inmates to sit six feet apart. Work stations at prison industries also have been reorganized to be six feet apart. Posters are up across the institutions, in living areas, on inmate tablets and inmate kiosks, explaining why social distancing is important.
e. Inmates clean their areas every two hours.
f. We bought foggers to spray sanitizer into corners and areas that are hard to reach with a spray bottle and cloth.
Also of note: Eight of our 21 institutions have had no COVID among inmates.
In March, we:
- suspended all volunteers entering institutions.
- suspended all work crews from going out in the community.
- stopped all routine transfers/movement between institutions
- stopped all support staff (teachers, program coordinators, etc.) from entering institutions.
- allowed only essential/mission critical staff to enter institutions.
Instituted new cleaning protocols:
- Inmates clean their area every two hours.
- Plenty of access to soap, disinfectant and hand sanitizer.
- Bought foggers to help sanitize living areas and hard-to-reach places in institutions.
- All staff and inmates were issued two masks – one to wear and one to wash
- Teaching social distancing. Posted information in all living units and on the inmate kiosks.
- Staff also now have face shields in addition to other PPE
- Giving inmates two free 5-minute calls each week.
- Created a COVID-19 tracking system with five call teams to monitor staff. These teams work seven days a week and are staffed by more than 100 agency employees, many of whom volunteered for this duty. These teams help monitor the people we have at home on isolation and quarantine. This system tracks their physical symptoms and also their travel history and whether they have been near anyone suspected of being infected.
- Developed two apps that help streamline our work and process information quicker.
- South Carolina Department of Corrections data shows the Broad River Correctional Instititute leads all other facilities with 329 active cases among its inmates as of Sept. 7.