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On Sunday night, a fight broke out at the Lee Correctional Facility in South Carolina. Nearly eight hours later, the incident was over, and seven inmates were dead.
The fights have been described as “inmate-on-inmate.” No guards or employees were hurt, but this prison has a history. “Two officers were stabbed there in a 2015 fight. An inmate was killed during a fight in July 2017, another was stabbed to death in November, and a third was killed in February,” The New York Times reports.
Earlier this month, a video showed guards taking 30 minutes to respond to an attack on an inmate in a private prison in Mississippi. And a Vice report found that in private facilities, attacks on guards and inmates are much more frequent than in public prisons. Research has found that pay is lower is private prisons as well.
Public prisons like Lee in South Carolina aren’t flush with cash, though. The Federal Bureau of Prisons saw a 14 percent drop in staff recently. As a result, the House Appropriations Committee “said the current inmate–to–correctional officer ratio is 8.3 to 1, up from 4.4 to 1 three years earlier,” Vice reports.
All of this is in the country with the highest incarceration rate in the world, where drug arrests happen, on average, every 25 seconds and where the president has promised “law and order.”
If prisons can’t keep up with policing, does something need to change? If yes, what?
- Marc Howard Professor of government and law, and director of the Prisons and Justice Initiative, Georgetown University; author of "Unusually Cruel: Prisons, Punishment and the Real American Exceptionalism"
- Pat Nolan Director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservative Union Foundation
- Glenn Smith Public service editor, The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina; @glennsmith5