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Beyond Prisons — Episode 13: The Crisis At McCormick Correctional Institution

Journalist Jared Ware interviewed people incarcerated at McCormick Correctional Institution in South Carolina regarding the ongoing crisis there for a special edition of Beyond Prisons.

McCormick has been on lockdown for weeks. At the end of September, incarcerated people reported officials were withholding drinking water and engaging in excessive force after a water main broke outside the facility. For three days, people on the inside reported they did not have drinkable water. This caused tensions in the facility to boil over into multiple incidents, which were met with more repression by prison staff.

Incarcerated people feel staff are intentionally trying to provoke them to justify worsening brutality and repressive conditions.

One man was reportedly shot with rubber bullets multiple times after leaving the shower. He has been transferred to another facility after he was taken the prison’s medical center.

On Monday, October 30, advocates reported people had briefly taken over the restrictive housing unit and set fires before returning to their cells.

Few news outlets have covered the crisis from the perspective of people on the inside, instead relying exclusively on reports from corrections officials, who claim the violence was a product of unruly prisoners and staff shortages. This claim has been used to justify the lockdown as well as the presence of riot squads and officers from nearby prisons.

Prison staff are said to be violating multiple department policies. Under the lockdown, people are being held in their cells 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They say medical attention is being denied, which has been particularly dangerous for those with diabetes. The prison is not providing adequate meals and unpalatable food is being served “with guns drawn and pointed in the direction of each cell they open to pass the food.”

“To add another degree of psychological torture, steel plates are being used to cover all windows,” members of Jailhouse Lawyers Speak reported on Twitter. “Natural sunlight is being eliminated in the cells at McCormick Prison.”

Incarcerated people are reporting the facility is only allowing one cell at a time to bathe, limiting showers to once a week. Hygiene products have not been delivered to cells. Living conditions are becoming increasingly unsanitary as well, as cells and showers have not been cleaned.

Another prison in the South Carolina system, Broad River Correctional Institution, is reportedly on lockdown as well.

Advocates are asking the public to call the following officials on behalf of those incarcerated at McCormick:

  • South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED): 803-737-9000
  • Assistant Attorney General, John M. Gore
    DOJ Civil Rights Division 202-514-4609
  • South Carolina Senator  Karl Allen
    Corrections and Penology Oversight subcommittee member
    602 Gressette Bldg.Columbia 29201
    Business Phone: (803) 212-6008
  • SCDC Office of the Director Bryan P. Stirling: 803-896- 8555.

They are requesting a formal investigation relating to water rationing and the use of excessive force at the facility. Incarcerated people are also asking for normal operations to resume “without delay” and for inhumane living conditions to be “rectified immediately.”

Advocates have put out the following script for those who wish to make phone calls:

My name is (YOUR NAME) and I am calling to request that McCormick Correctional Institution in South Carolina be returned to normal operations as there are adequate staff at the prison, including staff from other prisons who are doing over time shifts there, and members of the burgundy team who are present.

I understand that the conditions there have been deplorable and in violation of SCDC policies and basic fundamentals of human decency. Beyond asking for the prison to be returned to normal operations, I am asking for a full investigation into the leadership of the prison and into all of the decisions, actions, abuses, and violations which have occurred there since the Boiling Water notice was put in effect there back on September 30th.

Listen to the episode to get the perspectives of incarcerated people on what’s going on inside McCormick.

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Music & Production: Jared Ware

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Brian Sonenstein

Brian Sonenstein

Publishing Editor at Shadowproof and columnist at Prison Protest.