South Carolina prisons probed after reports of abuse and violence

The Justice Department on Thursday opened a far-reaching civil rights investigation at two troubled South Carolina prisons after reports of violent and unhealthy living conditions, the failure to treat mentally ill inmates and the abuse of inmates by guards.

The department launched a so-called pattern or practice investigation at the Sheriff’s Al Cannon Detention Center near Charleston and the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Columbia after the deaths of 14 inmates in the past few years, Kristen M. Clarke, assistant attorney general overseeing the civil rights division, said. he told reporters.

The investigation will focus on “credible allegations” that a number of those deaths resulted from the use of force – including stunning and pepper spray on an inmate – medical neglect and assaults by other inmates that could have been prevented by proper supervision. The department also received numerous reports of unsanitary and structurally unsound facilities, sexual assaults, overcrowding and understaffing.

“People incarcerated in local jails across our country do not abandon their civil and constitutional rights at the prison door,” Ms. Clarke said. “Prison should never carry the risk of death or serious injury.”

In an emailed statement, Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano, who oversees the Cannon facility, said criticism of the jail was “politically opportunistic.” Ms. Graziano, a Democrat elected in 2020 on a reform platform, accused state government officials of failing to provide enough resources to address mental illness, which she said had led to “the dumping of the mentally ill in prisons.”

At a news conference, officials from Richland County, which oversees the Columbia facility, acknowledged the need to address the conditions and said they have already begun making changes, including increasing staffing at the jail.

Department uses pattern or practice investigations to determine whether law enforcement agencies are violating people’s constitutional rights. Investigations, which can take months or years, often culminate in an agreement between the government and local officials to undertake a series of reforms. In some cases, the department will file a lawsuit if an agreement cannot be reached.

The Department’s use of such investigations increased under Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, who opened an investigation in Louisville, Ky.; Minneapolis; New York; Oklahoma City; Mount Vernon, NY; Phoenix, Worcester, Mass.; and Louisiana. In July, the department launched an investigation into conditions at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, citing similar problems to those in South Carolina.

Ms Clarke said the work of the South Carolina department would be stepped up because “lives could be at stake” if the problems continued.

Officials painted a particularly grim picture at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, about eight miles from the state Capitol in Columbia.

Since February 2022, there have been six deaths at the detention center, including a man who was killed by other inmates. There were also two escapes and 16 confirmed reports of stabbings or other acts of violence and multiple sexual assaults, according to the department’s initial assessment.

Ms Clarke said she had also received reports that, in some cases, “the bodies of the deceased have not been found for significant periods of time.”

The government also cited the poor physical condition of the Glenn complex, which houses more than 900 inmates. State inspectors and the local fire marshal reported finding mold and pests, she said.

The main catalyst for the investigation at the Cannon Detention Center in Charleston County, officials said, was the death of Jamal Sutherland, 31, who died after being forcibly removed from his cell in January 2021.

Mr Sutherland, who had a history of mental health problems, was taken to prison after the incident at a behavioral health center where he was being treated. Two detention deputies sprayed Mr. Sutherland and used a stun gun to subdue him.

They were later fired, but the Justice Department determined there was insufficient evidence to file civil rights charges against them.

In August 2022, D’Angelo Brown, 28, died of severe dehydration after Charleston County Jail officials failed to provide him with adequate medication and treatment for his schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, according to a lawsuit filed by his family.

Mr Brown suffered a psychotic break, refusing food and liquids, and died a week after being rushed to a nearby hospital for emergency treatment.

“The county coroner attributed Mr Brown’s death to gross medical neglect and ruled his death a homicide,” Ms Clarke said.

Categories USA

Leave a Comment