COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - This past week took a toll on a Columbia prison.
The South Carolina Department of Corrections announced three COVID-19 inmate deaths at the Broad River Correctional Institution.
The deaths brought the death total at the facility to five, all of which took place since Sept. 3.
SCDC Director Bryan Stirling said the department is “trying everything we can” to curb the spread of the virus inside the facility.
It currently leads all prisons statewide with 335 active cases among inmates. Also, 28 staffers are also quarantining due to the virus.
“Obviously we don’t want any deaths. These are loved ones of folks that are out there,” he said.
The department is currently mass-testing the population for COVID-19 and, in previous reporting, SCDC spokesperson Chrysti Shain sent WIS the breakdown of measures the department is taking to keep inmates safe.
These include but are not limited to providing inmates with masks, cleaning supplies, and soap.
Visitations have been suspended and only critical personnel are allowed inside the prison.
Stirling said inmates at Broad River are more likely to have other health factors at play (such as diabetes or cancer diagnoses), making them more susceptible to the virus.
“It’s a facility that’s just at high risk, just like a nursing home,” he said.
WIS spoke with one woman who has a loved one inside the facility. WIS agreed to keep her name and the name of the inmate private over potential retaliation concerns against the prisoner.
She said conditions are not where they need to be.
“Going out and shower, there’s no social distance he say. No masks on, no nothing. They let them out the shower, if they do, no one is wearing their mask. Some of them they’re wearing, not all,” she said.
Stirling said communal showers and bunking inmates in dorms is a risk, but the department is operating with the facilities it has at its disposal.
“Our showers are gang showers. They don’t have their own shower in their rooms. When they do have to go out and shower, they would go to a common shower. Unlike some facilities in the upstate though, they do have their own toilet and wash basin,” he said.
The woman also claimed that inmates and the staff at Broad River are not adequately cleaning the facility, leaving her loved one at risk.
“They not cleaning nothing, that kind of makes me worry a little bit. A lot. not a little bit, a lot,” she said.
Stirling said everyone needs to be responsible for the facility.
“We clean, but the inmates can clean also. I clean my own house. We have them cleaning as much as we can with what we have. That would be my message. We’re doing everything we can to make sure it’s as clean as it can be. We can always do better and we want to do better, but we’re working with the population to make sure they clean and we clean,” he said.
Statewide, SCDC has 850 active inmate cases and 21 deaths.