Prison protesters

Several people standing outside the state Emergency Management Division on Wednesday called on the state to move all prisoners out of Hurricane Florence's possible path. Seanna Adcox/Staff

COLUMBIA — State officials don't plan to move inmates at a medium-security prison located within South Carolina's evacuation zone, saying it's safer for the prisoners to stay.

MacDougall Correctional Institution in rural Dorchester County is the only state prison inside the area that Gov. Henry McMaster ordered to flee Hurricane Florence, though barely, by just 700 yards, said Brian Symmes, the governor's spokesman. 

"That's the safest place for those people to be at this time," McMaster said Wednesday after urging others within the zone to get out of the hurricane's path.  

The concrete-and-steel structure has a permanent generator capable of providing power for 10 days, state Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said. 

"We can withstand this for seven to 10 days," he said, noting food and medicine has been stockpiled and nurses are prepared to stay. 

Like MacDougall, maximum-security Lieber Correctional also has a Ridgeville address, but it's located 8 miles away, outside of the evacuation zones.  

The S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice said it moved 41 inmates and eight staff members from the Coastal Regional Evaluation Center next to Lieber to the agency's Broad River Road Complex in Columbia.

All 265 adult inmates at a minimum-security, pre-release center in the city of Florence have been moved to a prison in Clarendon County.

But that's because the Palmer Pre-Release Center, which provides work crews to local governments and GED classes to inmates nearing the end of their sentence, lacks any fences. It is not equipped like prisons, Stirling said. 

They were moved Wednesday to a housing unit at medium-security Turbeville Correctional Institution. 

Several protesters with the I Am We Prison Advocacy Network held signs Wednesday outside of the state Emergency Management Division headquarters in West Columbia, asking for all prisoners within a possible danger zone to be transferred. 

They noted that McMaster has repeatedly said he doesn't want to gamble the life of a single South Carolinian to the storm's destructive power.

"If he doesn't consider prisoners people, he doesn't need to be in charge of them," said Stephanie Serna of Columbia. 

The network formed after the April 15 prison riot at maximum-security Lee Correctional in Bishopville, when seven inmates were killed and 17 others were injured. 

"Everybody needs to be moved," said Kymberly Smith, of Columbia, who advocates abolishing prisons. "They're leaving people to die." 

Stirling said if prisoners need to be evacuated due to changing hurricane forecasts, they will be. 

No prison has ever been evacuated because of a hurricane, with the exception of MacDougall in 1999, when inmates were housed in temporary structures while the current prison was being built, he said.  

Advocates for inmates called on the state Wednesday to evacuate prisoners from medium-security Ridgeland Correctional in rural Jasper County. Care2 launched an online petition titled, "South Carolina wants to let inmates die in Hurricane Florence."

But Jasper County, along with Beaufort County and most of Colleton County, were taken out of the evacuation zone Tuesday, following shifts in the hurricane's projected path. Jasper County is at the bottom tip of the state.  

Follow Seanna Adcox on Twitter at @seannaadcox_pc.

Assistant Columbia bureau chief

Adcox returned to The Post and Courier in October 2017 after 12 years covering the Statehouse for The Associated Press. She previously covered education for The P&C. She has also worked for The AP in Albany, N.Y., and for The Herald in Rock Hill.