Prison Deaths Pile Up in South Carolina: Does Anybody Care?

The South Carolina Section of Corrections web page is a wealth of facts. You can track the inmate populace more than almost a 50 percent century. It slices and dices the data in dozens of methods: by gender, race, age, marital standing, variety of criminal offense and size of sentence.

You can see the range of men and women on death row, the escapes, and the mentally unwell.

But what the point out does not want you to know is that 2017 may perhaps have been the deadliest calendar year in the heritage of the jail method. And this calendar year, so far, is even worse — like a extraordinary spike in suicides.

Eighteen men and women died in point out prisons very last calendar year — 12 of them murdered by other inmates and 6 by suicide, in accordance to the Section of Corrections. It took a Freedom of Information and facts Act filing by me to pry these fundamental numbers out of the jail method and look at them with earlier several years.

That should not have been needed.

No earlier calendar year arrived near, the data the jail method ultimately coughed up exhibit. The overall body depend has risen 4 several years in a row. The record in 2017 exceeded the record in 2016, when five inmates were murdered and 6 committed suicide. In 2009, there were two fatalities whole.

Maintain in intellect the jail populace has fallen each individual calendar year considering that 2010 as the point out has diverted lower-level offenders from the method, a good issue. But the growing death toll has been driven by a determined scarcity of correctional officers — one in 4 careers are vacant — and by the power of the gangs, who significantly run the prisons.

Mental health care stays woefully inadequate.

The corrections office blames the growing violence on contraband cellphones “and the illegal exercise performed with them.” South Carolina is pushing the Federal Communications Fee to let the point out to turn out to be the first in the country to use cellphone jamming technologies.

The very last two several years observed an explosion in inmate-on-inmate assaults. Place basically, anybody who can has a knife. There were 250 assaults that required using inmates to outdoors hospitals in 2016 and 2017. That was extra than double the earlier two several years. Attacks on correctional officers also spiked.

In general, fatalities and severe assaults are working at a record rate this calendar year. In the first two months, there were two murders and a stunning 4 suicides. There were 6 suicides in the 3 months from December via February. That compares with 6 suicides in each individual of the very last two several years. This mirrors a increase in jail suicides nationally, suggesting this is considerably less a bad patch and extra a lethal pattern.

And this does not even involve what is heading on in the county jails, which ordinarily home about 12,000 inmates when compared with 20,000 in the point out prisons.

In 2016, the Section of Corrections settled a ten years-previous course-motion go well with that committed the point out to update mental health remedy. In a ruling, South Carolina Choose Michael Baxley wrote that the state’s care of mentally unwell inmates amounted to cruel and strange punishment.

“Evidence in this scenario has proved that inmates have died in the S.C. Section of Corrections for absence of fundamental mental health care,” Baxley said.

Gloria Prevost, executive director of South Carolina’s Protection & Advocacy, which brought the lawsuit, said the violence continues because of inadequate stability and health care workers.

“Understaffing of stability workers noticeably impacts the mental health plans, resulting in elevated lockdown time and absence of accessibility to plans,” she said.

Without extra funding for workers, “the difficulties will not diminish,” Prevost added.

There were 3 suicides by itself in January. One of people was Travis Marshall Steffey, convicted of distribution of methamphetamines in Aiken, S.C.

Travis Steffey

Travis Steffey. Photo courtesy The Post and Courier

Steffey was kicked out of two Georgia high schools and had a series of minimal scrapes with the legislation for issues like petty larceny, public drunkenness and assault and battery. Then in the spring of 2015, at the age of 19, he was busted for dealing medication.

In several years of Fb posts, Steffey is a profane, angry gangster-wannabe. He likes Confederate flags and does not like cops or snitches. But by December 2015, going through actual jail time, Steffey’s posts were changing:

“#GOD #Sobriety #Happiness #Fats #Leader #Positive A lot of extra hashtags of new me,” he wrote five days before Christmas.

And later the exact same day:

Pray pray pray issues will make modifications not fast but they do — and it feels good to commit a great deal of money on things I want besides dope it was a squander when I did that … like y’all goodnight and God bless u all who are in require and even the types that ain’t.

It was also late.

That May possibly, at the age of 20, Steffey was incarcerated in Columbia his projected release date was June 2019. He under no circumstances created it.

20-one months right after heading in, Steffey killed himself at Kirkland Correctional, a most stability jail, by swallowing paper clips, in accordance to Richland County Coroner Gary Watts. It would not have been an uncomplicated death, Watts said.

Steffey was 22.

The dilemma, of course: Does anybody care?

The point out prisons are filled with bad, uneducated men — 93 p.c are male — and there are no Boy Scouts in there. Sixty-one p.c are black, 2 times the statewide populace. The regular inmate has a 10th-grade education 17 p.c are deemed mentally unwell. And if the tepid reaction to my earlier jail columns is any evaluate, no person cares.

We really do not care at our peril.

As Bryan Stirling, the state’s jail director, likes to say, we really should care because extra than 85 p.c of existing inmates will be back again in our communities in considerably less than five several years. These men and women aren’t heading away.

This post was revealed before in the Charleston (SC) Post and Courier, and reproduced with authorization. Steve Bailey writes consistently for the Post and Courier’s Commentary web page. He can be achieved at Follow @sjbailey1060. He welcomes responses from visitors.

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