Prison employees searched, drug tested as South Carolina Department of Corrections combats “dirty staff”

Watch WIS News 10 at 11 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Published: Nov. 8, 2023 at 8:57 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - At prisons across the state Wednesday night, employees reported to work and had to go through random searches from law enforcement and K9s.

The surprise search is part of an effort that South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) Director Bryan Stirling calls a “zero tolerance campaign.”

Stirling said the goal of this campaign is to keep contraband out of prisons and stop what he calls “dirty staff.”

“We’re sending a message to our staff that we’re going to make sure that when you come to work at the department of corrections, you’re clean and you don’t have any contraband on you,” Stirling said. “And if you do, we’re going to catch you and charge you with a crime.”

Stirling said in addition to SCDC and the South Carolina Office of Inspector General, about 20 agencies across the state assisted Wednesday night’s effort.

At Broad River Correctional Institution, there were officers from the Columbia Police Department, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, and the Forest Acres Police Department.

Authorities made all employees stop on their way to work, so K9′s could sniff their cars.

If a K9 alerted that it smelled drugs, law enforcement searched the employee’s car. The employee was also drug tested.

No employees were arrested or charged at Broad River Correctional Institution, but multiple employees were drug tested, according to SCDC.

“You have a lot of folks who come to prison, I think it’s 30 or 40 percent, who have addiction issues. If people show up with drugs and things of that nature, it doesn’t help the rehabilitation process,” Stirling said.

The department led a similar search Monday night, covering state prisons in the eastern half of the state.

Stirling said one employee was charged with drug possession Monday. He said 13 employees were drug tested, but those tests came back negative.

This is one of many ways the department is working to keep contraband out of prisons.

“It makes it very dangerous. It empowers the gangs. It gives them the ability to make money while they’re inside,” Stirling said Wednesday night.

In September, investigators with the South Carolina Office of Inspector General led a raid at Lee Correctional Institution and arrested two employees.

RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Local corrections officers arrested as child porn, shanks, and contraband phones found in prison

At Lee Correctional Institution, SCDC has implemented technology to identify and shut down contraband cell phones inside the prison.

During an interview in September, Stirling said in one month, the department disabled about 620 phones. He said there are about 1,200 inmates inside Lee Correctional Institution.

On Wednesday night, he said that number has gone up to 800 phones the department has disabled.

Stirling hopes to put this technology in every state prison.

In October, Stirling told a panel of lawmakers he plans to ask the General Assembly for millions of dollars in next year’s budget to do that.

RELATED: Corrections department believes it has fix to illegal phones plaguing SC prisons

In addition to that technology, Stirling said the department has also installed nets to keep people from throwing contraband into prisons.

He said they also have drone teams, to stop outside drones from dropping contraband.

Notice a spelling or grammar error in this article? Click or tap here to report it. Please include the article's headline.

Stay up to date with WIS News 10. Get the app from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store and Stream us on Roku, YouTube, Amazon Fire, or Apple TV.