Ultimately Voters Control Our Prisons, Says Kimpson

By Barney Blakeney

The April 15 fight among inmates at Lee Correctional Institution that left seven dead and about two dozen injured for some offers a grim testimony to a reality of violence that apparently knows no bounds. Deadly violence in local communities is unprecedented. The violence doesn’t stop when convicted offenders go to prison. It sometimes escalates.   

Senator Marlon Kimpson

Charleston Sen. Marlon Kimpson during a telephone interview this week said the dynamics for communities doesn’t change in the aftermath of the nation’s most deadly prison riot. While violent crime is perpetrated in even the most serene communities such those on James Island, South Carolina’s legislature is predisposed with legislation that benefits big business and special interests, Kimpson said.

“This week we’ll be debating abortion for the sixth time! We’ve had no discussion in the senate about the riot. A subcommittee has been appointed to hold some hearings. South Carolina experienced the most deadly prison riot in the country, and not one substantive process is underway to address it. In the general assembly there is little sympathy for prisoners. The issue of prisoners doesn’t move the needle in the general assembly,” Kimpson said. Referencing the Lee riot he added, “They say that’s what happens in prison.”

But without rehabilitation, what happens in prisons often is perpetrated in communities when violent offenders are released. “It’s a different mindset about how we deal with people who one day will return to our communities,” Kimpson said. “We’re talking about getting tougher on prisoners and rooting out contraband – which I favor – but the discussion has to include adequate staffing so that those inmates who play by the rules are in a safe environment. Unless we put some focus on rehabilitation, it’s an endless cycle. We need more emphasis on rehabilitation, but we need leadership that believes in that.”

Kimpson said while Black communities may feel the impact of deadly violence acutely, the issue is not Black or white. “I’m disappointed more people are not outraged at the government we have in Washington and Columbia,” he said. “It’s as if there’s a feeling of normalcy about being sick and tired. Voter turnout is at a 40-year low. But people have the power to control their destiny through the voting process. People have to commit to being heard. They can write letters and petition the governor. Most of all, they can attend meetings and hearings, become engaged in the deliberative process.”

Kimpson said investments in rehabilitation while offenders are incarcerated and programs like the Turning Leaf Project in North Charleston which helps men complete probation have residual benefits to communities. Voters must elect officials who make them a priority, he said.

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