SC prisons to undergo “unprecedented” upgrades after lawmakers approve $92M investment

SC prisons to undergo “unprecedented” upgrades after lawmakers approve $92M investment - clipped version
Published: Oct. 8, 2021 at 7:10 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A South Carolina prison correctional officer can spend up to half of their 12-hour shift locking and unlocking cell doors, according to the agency director.

But Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling says the $92 million dollars approved by lawmakers for upgrades to state prisons will modernize the locks and other security measures.

“Everyone watches TV and they think, ‘ok, open-cell number 2, and then cell number 2 buzzes and it opens.’ That’s not the way it works at SCDC. That’s not the way it was built about 30 or 40 years ago,” Stirling said while holding up the large metallic key officers use to open each individual cell. “When you open that door and you’re standing there and it is you and those two inmates, that is the opportunity for assault.”

Stirling said the funds his department is receiving through federal COVID-19 reimbursements, will help pay for a new electronic locking system for the cells and a control room for officers to safely open and close the doors.

This upgrade will streamline a 40-50 minutes process done three to seven times a day, according to the director.

Other upgrades include cross fencing that will prevent inmates from being able to move from one dorm to another, observation towers, and moving the recreational yards so inmates can be more visible.

Stirling said these improvements would’ve helped officers three and a half years ago during the deadly riots at Lee Correctional Institution.

“Hopefully, it will cut down on contraband. With the rec yards on the inside of the yard versus the outside, they will be able to get rec more easily and they will have more eyes on them. So, if an incident does happen we will be able to see it,” he said.

The funds will also go to improving other parts of day-to-day prison operations including the heating and cooling system and fire alarms.

“These heating and cooling units were put in when these prisons were built which is 30 to 40 years old, these things break on a very, very regular basis,” he said.

In fact, he said being able to more effectively regulate the temperature inside the dorms will help curb violence.

“When, literally, the temperature in the dorm is cooler and the heat is not up, there is less likely to be violence. Inmate on inmate and violence on the staff,” Stirling said.

Stirling said the department’s facilities division is figuring out which upgrades need to be handled by private businesses, but the process of modernizing the prisons is starting now.

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