‘We have what appears to be the implosion of a jail system’: 14 inmates charged following Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center riot

Published: Nov. 13, 2023 at 12:03 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The Department of Justice is addressing the Sunday night riot at Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center.

One inmate was sent to the hospital, while more than a dozen other inmates all face new charges.

Fourteen inmates in total were charged with rioting and two of those inmates also face charges for arson and possession of contraband. A judge granted those inmates bond for the riot charges Monday morning. However, they’re still being held at the detention center for their previous charges.

The riot comes not even two weeks after the Department of Justice announced an investigation into the facility.

Department of Justice officials sent a statement that said:

All assaults on individuals housed at Alvin S. Glenn are a part of our civil investigation. Our civil investigation is a “pattern and practice” investigation that looks at systemic issues. Our investigation will examine whether the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center is engaging in a pattern or practice of violating the constitutional rights of individuals housed in the detention center by failing to provide constitutional living conditions and failing to protect incarcerated individuals from harm due to violence by other incarcerated individuals, so the assaults would be reviewed from that perspective.”

WIS obtained a video from a viewer whose loved one is incarcerated at the jail. The viewer did not want to be identified but says the video was shot during the riot at Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center Sunday night.

While you can’t see much you can hear what sounds like inmates yelling. Then, at the end of the video clip you see what appears to be flames in a mirror’s reflection.

Richland County deputies and Columbia fire crews responded to the jail about a fire in one of the units. An incident report from the Sheriff’s Department says the fire was started by inmates igniting their bed sheets. According to the report, the riot was in progress when deputies got to the scene. They say 14 inmates were on the upper level of Unit Papa, throwing items at the windows and banging on windows with socks filled with hard objects.

A spokesperson with Richland County says the riot and fire all started with a fight between two inmates but one woman whose family member is incarcerated there, says her loved one told her a different story.

“The incident culminated with them being locked down with no food or water kind of started the situation,” said Unique Spain. “They haven’t had adequate plumbing, no fresh water, they’re not eating properly, sometimes they’re not eating until 11 at night and even that is like a sack lunch, it’s a violent nature around there,” she added.

Forty inmates in total were detained following the riot. No inmates escaped and no correctional officers were injured but one inmate was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation. Sunday’s riot was the latest to plague the detention center. That’s after the Department of Justice announced it was opening an investigation into the facility. Since that announcement, there have been at least five stabbings at the jail and at least two assaults.

“We have what appears to be the implosion of a jail system,” said Hayden Smith, a Criminal Justice professor at the University of South Carolina.

In addition to being an expert on jail and prison conditions, Smith is also the only academic who has studied the 2018 Lee County Prison Riot.

Professor Smith says, “When you start to reach the level of a riot, you start to see a system that is having issues meeting its basic goals which are public safety and basic security.”

Professor Smith says the most recent incidents at the jail point to a bigger issue within the facility, a staffing shortage.

“Staff are the root of all good and bad things that happen in jail and prisons and if you don’t have staff, you’re guaranteed to have problems,” he said.

During a news conference from Richland County leaders responding to the DOJ’s announcement, newly named jail director, Crayman Harvey said the jail had a security staff of 121 with a goal of 250.

Professor Smith says the physical conditions of the jail as well as a high turnover rate of inmates are other factors that can contribute to violence within a prison or a jail. You can watch that full interview below:

Richland County Chairman Overture Walker said he was not at liberty to respond to the riot due to the DOJ’s ongoing investigation but he sent this statement which reads in part:

“I have been briefed on the recent disturbance, and it is imperative for the public to know that the health and safety of all individuals at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center are paramount to Richland County.

Additionally, addressing issues at the jail is a process and not a single-day event.”

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