Three South Carolina prison guards were placed under arrest on Friday for smuggling drugs and other contraband into two different correctional institutions. According to a statement, South Carolina Department of Corrections Police Services made the arrests after the suspects’ fellow officers discovered their smuggling attempts. Today’s arrests are the latest in a string of enforcement actions against prison guards at multiple correctional facilities across South Carolina. And they highlight the ongoing problem of abuse by prison guards in a state that locks up one out of every 100 of its residents.
The three officers arrested Friday in South Carolina all face charges for smuggling drugs and other contraband, like tobacco, rolling papers, wire cutters, and cell phones, inside the prisons where they worked. Police arrested Yolanda Whitaker for smuggling 20 cellphones and other contraband into Kershaw Correction Institution. Kershaw is a medium security facility. Yvanda Maria Hardy faces charges for attempting to smuggle marijuana into McCormick Correctional Institution. And a second guard at McCormick, Carmen Bess Jenkins, attempted to smuggle in 143 grams, or about five ounces of flower—and some perfume, naturally, to hide the smell. McCormick is a Level 3 correctional facility housing people serving sentences for violent crimes.
Late last month, South Carolina Department of Corrections officials arrested Ebonynisha Monique Casby, a guard at Lieber C.I., for first degree sexual misconduct and unlawful carrying of a pistol. The same week, a guard at Evans C.I., William Shaquille Suggs, was arrested after trying to smuggle Oxycodone, MDMA and tobacco in his crotch area. Police subsequently found synthetic marijuana in the guard’s car.
Defenders of the United State’s sprawling prison industrial complex say incarceration is necessary for reform, rehabilitation, and public safety. But for the more than 2.2 million people behind bars in the increasingly privatized network of 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 1,852 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, 80 Indian Country jails, and the vast numbers of military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in U.S. territories, incarceration typically leaves them worse off—more traumatized, more broken, more desperate, more violent—than when they began serving their sentences. And a major contributing factor to these deleterious outcomes is prison abuse.
Prison abuse takes many forms, from direct physical and sexual violence and intimidation by guards and other inmates to less direct forms of coercion, dehumanization, and neglect. For incarcerated people with mental illness, who account for between 15 and 20 percent of all inmates, and those with mental health problems, abuse behind bars is often much worse.
Guards who smuggle contraband into prisons are also committing a form of abuse. They endanger their fellow officers and other incarcerated people. And prison guards who smuggle drugs and other contraband into prisons are often coercing those in their charge to facilitate the deal so they can get their cut. But in police statements and the reporting on such incidences, it is almost always the incarcerated person who is framed as the danger and the cause of the smuggling. In some cases, this may be true. But the fact remains that in prison, it is the guards who have absolute control over the lives of the inmates under their watch, not the other way around.
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