Seven inmates were killed and 17 injured in clashes between rival gangs over "contraband and territory" at a maximum security prison in South Carolina.
Bryan Stirling, head of the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC), said fighting broke out shortly after 7:00 pm on Sunday in a prison dormitory and spread to two others before it was put down nearly eight hours later. He added a preliminary investigation had found that it was "gangs fighting over territory." "This was all about territory," he said. "This was about contraband. This was about cellphones. These folks are fighting about real money and real territory while they're incarcerated."
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster described the overnight bloodshed at Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, South Carolina, as "unfortunate" but said "these are dangerous people." "We cannot expect them to give up their violent ways just because they're in prison," McMaster told a press conference on Monday.
Representative Todd Rutherford, the leader of the Democratic minority in the state House of Representatives, condemned the violence. "A mass casualty incident inside a correctional facility is simply unacceptable," Rutherford tweeted. "Safety — for inmates, SCDC employees, and the public — must be a priority. "Rioting like this is a symptom our criminal justice system is broken and needs reform now," he said.
South Carolina's prisons are notoriously violent and suffer from chronic understaffing. According to The State newspaper, the number of inmates killed in South Carolina's prisons more than doubled in 2017 from the previous year. It said 12 inmates were killed by other prisoners last year, up from five in 2016. The deaths included four inmates who were strangled to death by two fellow prisoners in April 2017 at Kirkland Correctional Institution, another maximum security prison.
The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world with around 450 prisoners per 100,000 residents, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). There were 1.5 million inmates in state and federal prisons in the United States at the end of 2016, according to the BJS.