As the number of South Carolinians infected with COVID-19 continues to grow, we must focus on efforts to protect the health and well-being of all people housed and working inside South Carolina correctional facilities. An outbreak inside these institutions will be immensely difficult to contain and will compromise broader public health through transmission from employees who enter and exit the facilities on a daily basis.

As of March 27, the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) has reported that one of its guards tested positive for the virus. Now more than ever, SCDC and other state corrections institutions must increase transparency and accountability to a response grounded in science and public health.  

Last week, the ACLU of Ohio asked Governor DeWine and the heads of Ohio’s state prison and youth systems to publicly answer several questions on a daily basis to ensure transparency and provide reassurance to the loved ones of corrections employees and incarcerated people. In less than twenty-four hours, the governor and state corrections agencies began posting the requested data and updating it daily. 

We are following our Ohio colleagues’ lead. Yesterday, we issued a request to SCDC, the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice, and Governor Henry McMaster to answer the following four questions daily on their public websites: 

  1. Does your agency have test kits available to test incarcerated people or staff showing symptoms of COVID-19? If yes, how many test kits does your agency have?
  2. Are there any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in your facilities?  If so, how many?  Which facilities?
  3. Are there any suspected cases of COVID-19 in your facilities?  If so, how many?  Which facilities?
  4. Is anyone in your facilities being quarantined?  If so, how many?  Which facilities? How/under what conditions?

It is imperative that these agencies maintain the public’s trust, particularly during this pandemic. Transparency is the key to maintaining this trust.