South Carolina prisons to be investigated after reports of abuse and violence | ET REALITY


The Justice Department on Thursday opened a wide-ranging civil rights investigation into two troubled prisons in South Carolina after reports of violent and unsanitary living conditions, failure to treat mentally ill prisoners and abuse of inmates by of the guards.

The department launched a pattern or practice investigation at the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center near Charleston and the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Columbia after the deaths of 14 inmates in recent years, said Kristen M. Clarke, the deputy prosecutor. she told reporters the general who oversees the civil rights division.

The investigation will focus on “credible allegations” that several of those deaths were due to use of force (including a stun gun and pepper spray against an inmate), medical neglect and assaults by other inmates that could have been prevented by competent supervision. The department has also received numerous reports of unsanitary and structurally deficient facilities, sexual assaults, overcrowding and staff shortages.

“People held in local jails across our country do not abandon their civil and constitutional rights at the jail door,” Ms. Clarke said. “Imprisonment should never carry a risk of death or serious harm.”

In an emailed statement, Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano, who oversees the Cannon facility, said criticism of the jail was “politically opportunistic.” 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 neglect of the mentally ill in the prisions”.

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

The department uses pattern or practice investigations to determine whether law enforcement agencies are violating people’s constitutional rights. Investigations, which can last 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 these types of investigations has increased under Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, who opened investigations in Louisville, Kentucky; Minneapolis; NY; Oklahoma City; Mount Vernon, New York; Phoenix, Worcester, Massachusetts; and Louisiana. In July, the department launched an investigation into conditions at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, citing problems similar to those found in South Carolina.

Clarke said the department’s work in South Carolina would accelerate because “lives may be at stake” if problems persist.

Officials painted a particularly bleak picture of the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, about eight miles from the State Capitol in Columbia.

They pointed to one death in particular that represented dysfunction in the jail. In August 2022, D’Angelo Brown, 28, died from severe dehydration after 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.

Brown suffered a psychotic break, refused to eat or drink fluids, 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 negligence and ruled his death a homicide,” Ms. Clarke said.

Since February 2022, there have been six deaths at the detention center, including that of Mr Brown and another man who was killed by other prisoners. There have also been 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 were not found for significant periods of time”.

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

A major 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 jail after an incident at a behavioral health facility where he was being treated. Two sheriff’s deputies pepper 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 bring civil rights charges against them.

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