Along with our partners Arnold & Porter, today we announced a resolution in Voltz-Loomis, et. al, v. McMaster, et. al., our federal  lawsuit filed on behalf of people incarcerated by the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC). The suit sought immediate relief to protect incarcerated people during COVID-19. Today’s resolution requires SCDC to follow newly adopted procedures to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 for all people who are incarcerated in state prisons. As a result of the resolution, SCDC has produced a COVID-19 response policy implementing procedures based on CDC guidelines, including sanitation and medical guidelines. 

Additional policy provisions include: 

  • Implementation of widespread testing;
  • A dramatic reduction in time for wardens to respond to grievances made by incarcerated people regarding the COVID-19 policy; and
  • A procedure for flagging parole-eligible individuals with underlying medical conditions increasing their vulnerability to COVID-19 for review and consideration by the Parole Board. 

This resolution is an important step toward protecting incarcerated people during COVID-19, but there is more work to be done moving forward to ensure the safety of those in our state’s care. COVID-19 has laid bare the longstanding inadequacies of South Carolina’s prisons and carceral justice system. To truly fulfill our state’s duty to protect incarcerated people, drastically and safely reducing our prison population is an imperative.

Since March, 2,289 people incarcerated in South Carolina’s prisons are known to have become infected with COVID-19. Of those, 31 people have died from the virus. SCDC Director Bryan Stirling is legally authorized to petition the SC Board of Paroles and Pardons for the release of incarcerated people who are considered terminally ill, permanently incapacitated, or geriatric. Moving forward, Director Stirling and South Carolina leaders must truly do everything in their power to save lives, including petitioning for the release of those who qualify.

COVID-19 arrived in a prison system already suffering from horrific conditions of confinement. For years, SCDC has been plagued by a chronic staffing shortage which created conditions that led to a deadly riot at Lee Correctional Institution in 2018. A 2019 report by the S.C. General Assembly Legislative Audit Council concluded that SCDC is unequipped to maintain safe operations and deliver necessary medical care and programs to incarcerated people on an average day, much less during a deadly pandemic. 

Today we took an important step forward, but the fight to protect incarcerated people in South Carolina continues.