Lawmaker: Understaffing continues to plague SC prisons amidst disturbances
COLUMBIA, SC (WACH) - Understaffing continues to plague the Department of Corrections, as the agency is still struggling to close the gap between its inmate to officer ratio.
At least two incidents have occurred at South Carolina correctional facilities within the last two weeks.
On Easter Sunday, three officers were injured at Kershaw Correctional Center during a disturbance. One of the officers was stabbed. All three were still in the hospital Monday.
Details about what happened at Kershaw Correctional are still limited. A spokesperson with the Department of Corrections says it took multiple agencies, including SLED, nearly five hours to resolve the disturbance. It's still unclear how many inmates were involved in the incident.
Friday, April 7, officials say four inmates at Kirkland Correctional Institution were strangled to death one by one during a 30-minute period by two fellow inmates.
The Department of Corrections has 29 institutions categorized into four security levels- high security is level three, medium security is level 2, minimum security is level 1b and the lowest security is level 1a.
Kershaw Correctional is a level 2 medium security facility for adult males. At a medium level security facility, inmates are supervised 24 hours a day with controlled movements.
According to a report released by the Department of Corrections in 2013, the average medium security level prison was about a 10 to 1 ratio between inmates and correctional officers.
As of April 1, 2017, there were 94 correctional officers at Kershaw Correctional- that's about a 15 to 1 ratio between inmates and officers when the prison is at capacity with 1,403 inmates.
DOC spokesperson Sommer Sharpe says the institution has an additional 53 people serving as security.
Lawmakers and the director of the agency have said understaffing has plagued South Carolina's DOC over the last several years.
Last year, the Legislature funneled $8 million into DOC's budget to help solve the understaffing problem. Most of the money has gone to $1,500 pay raises for the guards. At the time the legislation passed, DOC had 500 officer positions open.
Starting salary for correctional officers at South Carolina prisons is a little more than $28,000.
DOC has upped its recruiting methods, placing "now hiring" signs across the state, running commercials on local TV stations, and even advertising on billboards along the state's highways.
Lawmakers say they hope the agency can find a way to close the gap between officers and inmates, even if it means the agency requesting more money from the state.