Hundreds of South Carolina Inmates Sent to Solitary Confinement Over Facebook

This was reblogged from: Electronic Frontier Foundation
Written by: Dave Maass, Feb 12, 2015

In the South Carolina prison system, accessing Facebook is an offense on par with murder, rape, rioting, escape and hostage-taking.

Back in 2012, the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) made “Creating and/or Assisting With A Social Networking Site” a Level 1 offense [PDF], a category reserved for the most violent violations of prison conduct policies. It’s one of the most common Level 1 offense charges brought against inmates, many of whom, like most social network users, want to remain in contact with friends and family in the outside world and keep up on current events. Some inmates ask their families to access their online accounts for them, while many access the Internet themselves through a contraband cell phone (possession of which is yet another Level 1 offense).

Through a request under South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act, EFF found that, over the last three years, prison officials have brought more than 400 hundred disciplinary cases for “social networking”—almost always for using Facebook. The offenses come with heavy penalties, such as years in solitary confinement and deprivation of virtually all privileges, including visitation and telephone access. In 16 cases, inmates were sentenced to more than a decade in what’s called disciplinary detention, with at least one inmate receiving more than 37 years in isolation.

The sentences are so long because SCDC issues a separate Level 1 violation for each day that an inmate accesses a social network. An inmate who posts five status updates over five days, would receive five separate Level 1 violations, while an inmate who posted 100 updates in one day would receive only one.

In other words, if a South Carolina inmate caused a riot, took three hostages, murdered them, stole their clothes, and then escaped, he could still wind up with fewer Level 1 offenses than an inmate who updated Facebook every day for two weeks.

So extreme is the application of this policy that SCDC is forced to regularly suspend solitary confinement sentences because of a lack of space in disciplinary segregation. In many cases, the punishments associated with using social media are so unnecessarily long that inmates will never actually serve them since they exceed their underlying prison sentences.

Read the rest here

When Good People Do Nothing: The Appalling Story of South Carolina’s Prisons

This was published on The Atlantic website, written by Andrew Cohen for The Atlantic on Jan. 10th, 2014:

A judge’s order in an inmate abuse case highlights the role played, or not played, by the state’s political and legal infrastructure.

In two months, America will observe the 50th anniversary of one of its most dubious moments. On March 13, 1964, Catherine “Kitty” Genovese was brutally murdered in Queens, New York. What made her case infamouslegendary, even—was that nobody responded to her cries for help. “Please help me, please help me!” she cried, over and over, and at least 38 people in her neighborhood who heard those cries did nothing to help her. They did not call the police. They did not come to comfort her. They did not, they later said, want to get involved. “When good people do nothing” is a timeless moral question, indeed.

One could say the same thing about the citizens of the state of South Carolina, who stand condemned today by one of their own. On Wednesday, in one of the most wrenching opinions you will ever read, a state judge in Columbia ruled that South Carolina prison officials were culpable of pervasive, systemic, unremitting violations of the state’s constitution by abusing and neglecting mentally ill inmates. The judge, Michael Baxley, a decorated former legislator, called it the “most troubling” case he ever had seen and I cannot disagree. Read the ruling. It’s heartbreaking.

Read the rest of this story here.

Marie Deans saved lives that society scorned

Marie Deans saved lives that society scorned

Advocate for death row inmates passed away in March
May. 16, 2011
By Colman McCarthy

Facing certain death, 34 men in South Carolina and Virginia asked Marie Deans to stay close to them in their final hours and minutes. They were death row inmates.

Years before the electrocutions or druggings in the government’s death chambers, it was Marie Deans who came into the cellblocks to offer whatever professional or personal services she could provide to the condemned.

Read the rest here.

ACLU Investigation suggests persistence of priblems in State Juvenile Justice Department

Letter to Department Director highlights lack of staff and rising levels of violence

January 20, 2010

CHARLESTON, SC – An investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU South Carolina Office has revealed major problems with the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice that compromise both the wellbeing of juveniles and the public’s safety.

Based on department documents obtained by the ACLU in recent months under the Freedom of Information Act, the ongoing investigation raises serious concerns about current conditions at juvenile detention facilities, including staff abuse, dangerously low numbers of staff and unacceptably high levels of juvenile violence.

“The juvenile detention system in South Carolina is in critical condition and in desperate need of positive intervention,” said Victoria Middleton, Executive Director of the ACLU South Carolina Office. “We need to invest the funds necessary to ensure constitutionally adequate secure facilities and we need to reduce the number of juveniles who are incarcerated in the first place.”

In a letter sent Tuesday to William R. Byars, Jr., director of the state’s juvenile justice department, the ACLU highlights a number of serious problems that call for immediate attention. According to the documents, staff reductions and staff vacancies in education, programming and security have resulted in staffing levels that may fall below constitutionally acceptable levels. As of April 2009, for example, seven of 19 slots for classroom teachers or associate teachers were vacant, there were 14 vacancies in health services and there were no police
officers staffing the third shift at the John C. Richards facility in Columbia.

The documents obtained by the ACLU also reveal many trips by juveniles to the emergency room for lacerations and broken bones, likely a result of the violence that permeates the statewide system and which has likely only been exacerbated by staff reductions. The juvenile department staff that does remain is overly reliant on the use of restraints and isolated segregation, according to the documents. More than 23 percent of the juveniles detained at the Broad River facility in Columbia are housed in isolation, the documents show, significantly higher than national standards which suggest that no more than five to 10 percent of juveniles in any given facility be confined to isolated housing.

Additionally, the documents obtained by the ACLU show that over a third of the youth in juvenile detention facilities in South Carolina have been detained for low-level offenses, and that more than a half of the referrals to the juvenile justice department come under the state’s “disturbing schools” statute.

“Repealing that statute alone would substantially reduce the number of kids that the state locks up,” said Middleton. “Doing so would also decriminalize behavior that has traditionally been a matter of school discipline.Locking up kids for low-level offenses simply is not good social or fiscal policy.”

A copy of the ACLU’s letter to William R. Byars, Jr., director of the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice is available online at: www.aclu.org/racial-justice/aclu-letter-director-south-carolina-department-juvenile-justice

Additional information about the ACLU South Carolina Office is available at: www.aclusouthcarolina.org