Violence in South Carolina prisons is nothing new, and the problem has gotten significantly worse in recent years. Still, no one was prepared for the news of a “mass casualty event” that took place in Lee Correctional Facility on the night of April 15, 2018, when 7 seven inmates were murdered inside of a state run penitentiary.
Everything we know so far paints a grim scene: an inmate reported to the Associated Press that the dead and wounded bodies were “literally stacked on top of each other” and then ignored by guards and prison administrators. Hours passed as prison officials watched human beings bleed to death on the floor.
Bryan Stirling, the Director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections, attributed the problem to an ‘argument over cellphones.’ But I believe serious observers will understand that the root of the issue is much more significant.
South Carolina is a relatively small state, and Lee County is one of South Carolina’s smallest. It is also one of our poorer counties, and over 60% of the people who live there are Black. Unable to find government funds to improve the schools or healthcare of this neglected community, donor-minded politicians still manage to hand large sums of taxpayer money over to privatized “security” firms, which have not only made prisons less secure but have made the situation deplorable. A cruel irony that our local government profits off the miserable conditions that it enforces on its most vulnerable citizens.
But if the communities outside the prison are struggling, it should be noted that the mostly White administrators who manage the prison (including Director Stirling) do very well for themselves. Like many prisons in South Carolina, Lee Correctional has a long list of privatized contracts that utilize cheap (virtually “free”) prison labor to manufacture various textiles. The low cost of production allows prison officials (as well as the state government) to generate fat profits and, because they are exploiting people who are convicted of a crime, they believe citizens will ignore the degradation of human rights occurring just next door.
At least until there is a “publicity” problem. But if we’re honest about what’s going on, and we have the basic decency not to lay the blame onto cellphones or ‘loosie’ cigarettes, then we have to confront a rather tragic reality: our for-profit prisons systems are the modern extension of our slave-profit plantation systems.
Lee County and Lee Correctional are named after the secessionist, slave-owning traitor Robert E. Lee. And why wouldn’t they be? The prisoners, who are disproportionately Black, are consigned by law to carry out the economic interest of the prison administrators, who are — if it can be believed — even more disproportionately White. We can plug our heads into the sand and continue to refer to it as “correctional facility,” or we could call it what it is: the New Slave Labor. If we do nothing to change this, then we have no right to be surprised when the violence gets worse, which I fear it will.