Former Lee Correctional officer speaks out about conditions for inmates

Charleston, S.C. (WCIV) — The prison problems in South Carolina have been widely discussed days after a riot at a maximum security institution where seven inmates died and dozens were hurt.

ABC News 4 spoke with someone firsthand about her experience on the inside.

Shakerra Wiley, a former corrections officer, worked at Lee Correctional Institution for just over a year.

She said inmates are there to pay their debt to society, but it was difficult to rehabilitate them with an understaffed prison.

"At one point in time, I know they didn't come out (of their jail cells) for a week, everything had to be brought to them, it's just bad." Wiley said.

She said life for inmates was similar to animals.

"If you cage an animal for so long, when you let them out you gotta expect them to be wild and that's exactly how they were." Wiley said the inmates suffer psychologically. "They kind of lose their minds because they're just stuck in that one little room."

More than 1,500 inmates are serving time at Lee Correctional Institution.

She said the prison was supposed to have two officers per side in one dorm, but that was often impossible with an understaffed department.

"There's times when I've worked a whole dorm by myself," Wiley said.

Earlier this week, Gov. Henry McMaster said inmates have violent ways.

"These are dangerous people and they're in prison because they have been judged to be so dangerous to be kept in prison, so we can not expect them to give up their dangerous ways just because they're in prison," McMaster said.

Wiley said many inmates try to make strides in a different direction. "A lot of them went back to school, a lot of them have degrees," she said.

Cellphone contraband was also a problem when Wiley worked at the prison.

Department of Corrections Director, Bryan Stirling said is being rectified now with a managed access program that prevents cell phone signals from entering the prison.

"Managed Access, which we're installing at Lee, we're gonna see how that goes. It's in one housing unit, so far the pilot has gone well," he said.

Wiley said ultimately, rehabilitation needs to be the focal point for all inmates.

"They need to give these guys some chances outside of their rooms because they are caging these men in and it's not fair."

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