SC prison won't evacuate despite mandatory order ahead of hurricane

As many as 934 inmates and 119 staff at Ridgeland Correctional Institution will stay behind


By Emily Bohatch
The State

JASPER COUNTY, SC — As nearly a million people hit the road before Hurricane Florence nears the coast, 934 inmates and as many as 119 prison staff will be staying behind despite a mandatory evacuation.

Despite an evacuation order encompassing the prison’s location in Jasper County, S.C. Department of Corrections officials decided not to remove inmates at the Ridgeland Correctional Institution as of Monday afternoon, SCDC spokesman Dexter Lee said in an interview with The State.

Inmates and staff at RCI will stay behind during Hurricane Florence. (Photo/National Weather Service)
Inmates and staff at RCI will stay behind during Hurricane Florence. (Photo/National Weather Service)

“Right now, we’re not in the process of moving inmates,” Lee said. “In the past, it’s been safer to leave them there.”

During a press conference Monday afternoon, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster revealed maps of the evacuation zones. McMaster commented that the darker the color, the more important it was for residents to evacuate.

Ridgeland falls within a red area on the evacuation map.

“We know the evacuation order I’m issuing will be inconvenient,” McMaster said during the evacuation press conference. “But we’re not going to gamble with the lives of the people of South Carolina. Not a one.”

Along with the nearly 1,000 prisoners staying behind during the evacuation, essential personnel will be required to stay behind and work at the prison, Lee said. Guards will not have the choice to opt in or out if they are scheduled to work during Hurricane Florence, he added.

Though parts of the lower Low Country aren’t included in the National Hurricane Center’s hurricane warning zone, Lee said there is some concern about conditions Florence may cause.

“There’s a concern anytime (with flooding) in a storm of this magnitude,” Lee said.

In 2016, during Hurricane Matthew, an inmate died at Ridgeland Correctional Institution, according to a previous report in The State. Then Gov. Nikki Haley said the death was seemingly unrelated, according to the report.

Haley added there were no deaths directly related to the storm.

MacDougall Correctional Institution in Dorchester County is also in the evacuation zone, Lee said.

Lee was not immediately available to comment on the inmate population and staffing levels at MacDougall and did not comment about whether that prison would be evacuated.

However, Lee did say that generally, SCDC believes it’s safer to not transfer inmates to another location.

MacDougall is a Level 2 institution in Ridgeville, which houses medium-security inmates. Ridgeland Correctional is also a Level 2 institution, located in Ridgeland.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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