Lee County prison incidents concern S.C. senators

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COLUMBIA — Another hostage situation in just more than three months at the same state maximum-security prison have South Carolina senators wondering whether they need to have Corrections Department officials answer questions about the facility.

Inmates held an officer for about five hours Thursday at the Lee Correctional Insti­tution in Bishopville. He was released with minor injuries. In the past four years, four large fights and three hostage situations have broken out at the prison.

“If it was a systemwide problem, you would be hearing about these situations at other places, right?” said Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, a member of the Senate Corrections and Penology Committee.

Massey said Corrections Department officials have not told them of any serious problems that needed additional money over the past few years.

He said he wants to hear from prison officials so he can figure out if it needs to be addressed.

Both recent hostage situations happened after dinner, when inmates are winding down and just one guard is on duty, authorities said.

Sen. John Scott also wants to know if there is a lack of security at the prison, or if the type of inmates sent there need to be changed so there isn’t as much trouble.

“We’re going to take a look at it,” said Scott, D-Columbia.

Investigators are still trying to sort out what happened Thursday. They don’t know how many prisoners participated, how they were able to overpower the officer or their motivation, Corrections Department spokesman Clark Newsom said.

“It was a very disorganized effort, which makes us feel even further it was not planned in any way,” Newsom said Friday.

The hostage-taking happened in a dorm of roughly 100 inmates.

Not all the prisoners were part of the disturbance. Some used contraband cellphones to call the main number at the prison and give information to authorities, including how the guard was hidden in a broom closet, Newsom said.

That information was used by SWAT team members who swarmed the prison and ended the standoff, Newsom said.

“You’re dealing with some very smart folks who are lifelong criminals and have absolutely nothing to lose,” Newsom said. “You are outnumbered and sometimes things can happen.”

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