SC officials won’t evacuate prison ahead of hurricane

By Emily Bohatch

As nearly a million people hit the road before Hurricane Florence nears the coast, 934 inmates and as many as 119 prison staff were ordered to stay behind despite a mandatory evacuation.

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

“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.”

During a Tuesday press conference, McMaster lifted the evacuation order for Jasper County.

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S.C. Emergency Management Division’s evacuation map.

Along with the nearly 1,000 prisoners ordered to stay behind during the evacuation, essential personnel would have been required to stay behind and work at the prison, Lee said. Guards would 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.

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Right: A map of the evacuation zone in the central coastal part of South Carolina published by the S.C. Emergency Management Division. Left: A Google Map’s image of MacDougall Correctional Institution.

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.