Prison riot

Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville, S.C., where seven inmates were killed and 17 other seriously injured in fights between prisoners. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

Sean Rayford

COLUMBIA — South Carolina's medium and maximum security prisons are in a "lock down" after seven inmates were brutally murdered during a riot at a correctional facility in Lee County Sunday night. 

Bryan Stirling, the director of the Deparment of Corrections, said Tuesday that more than 20,000 inmates in at least 16 prisons across South Carolina were locked in their cells to prevent any more bloodshed. 

"We don't want this happening in another dorm or another prison," Striling said. 

The lockdown is one of the first steps taken since correctional officers lost control of three units at the maximum security prison in Lee County Sunday night. It took hours for correctional officers and state law enforcement officers to regain control in those housing units. 

In the meantime, the bloodied bodies of the seven slain inmates were dragged through the prison and piled next to a fence, according to photos and video taken inside the prison. Another 17 prisoners were injured and transported to nearby hospitals. 

The prisoners at other facilities across the state, Striling said, were also locked into their rooms as a precaution to ensure the violence didn't spread in the aftermath of one of the state's deadliest prison uprisings in recent history. 

Stirling and Gov. Henry McMaster suggested the deadly brawl on Sunday night was tied to gangs that have formed within the state's correctional institutions. 

Cell phones smuggled into prisons around the state make it possible for the prisoners in Lee County to communicate with people who are locked up elsewhere, Stirling said. 

It is unclear what other steps the Department of Corrections is taking to prevent another deadly riot in the Lee County facility and other prisons accross the state. Stirling declined to disclose other measures his agency is taking.

Any further discussion of the agency's response, Stirling said, could tip off the prisoners who have cell phones and are able to communicate with people outside.  

Reach Andrew Brown at 843-708-1830 or follow him on Twitter @andy_ed_brown.