South Carolina Prison Chief Fired as Scandal Widens
The charges deepened a prison scandal that began last summer when Susan Smith, the state's most famous female prisoner, told investigators that she had sex with two prison guards. Since the investigation began, a total of 13 guards and prison employees have been criminally charged for illegal actions involving sex, drugs and contraband smuggling [See accompanying article: "South Carolina Rapes Exposed"].
The allegations involve four minimumsecurity prisoners, two men and two women, who handled maintenance and housekeeping chores around the governor's mansion. Prisoners told investigators that they did not use the governor's bedroom or have sex while his family was home.
"I'm mad as hell, for the sanctity of my home has been violated," Hodge said. He added that he had decided to terminate the prisoner work program at his residence.
Cato, who had headed the state's prison system since 1998, was the target of increasing criticism as his department took mounting hits from an everwidening scandal.
On December 13, 2000, state prison guard Reggie Lewis, 21, was arrested by State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) undercover agents after making a drug deal with him. Lewis, who worked as an "officer cadet" at the Allendale Correctional Institution, is charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana, possession with intent to distribute marijuana near a school and possessing or furnishing a prisoner with contraband.
Lewis met with an undercover agent in a restaurant parking lot (near a school) and agreed to deliver three ounces of marijuana to a state prisoner after the agent gave him the marijuana and $300, SLED spokesman Hugh Munn said.
On November 9, 2000, a SLED undercover agent made a similar arrangement with Manning Correctional Institution guard Terry Townsend. The agent, posing as a prisoner's wife, gave Townsend three ounces of marijuana and $300 in a shopping mall parking lot (again, conveniently near a school). After Townsend, 43, accepted the weed and money and agreed to deliver the dope to a prisoner, he was arrested and charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana, possession with intent to distribute marijuana near a school, intentionally trying to give contraband to a prisoner and misconduct in office.
The state DOC suffered additional embarrassment in October when The State (Columbia, SC newspaper) revealed that Gail Fricks, the department's deputy director for health services, was hired in June 1998 despite having only a twoyear degree in nursing from an Illinois community college.
Fricks, who joined the DOC as a staff nurse in 1984, was selected over 137 other candidates who applied for the $86,571 a year job running a $53 million operation with 534 employees. Her application for the chief medical job said she earned a bachelor's of science degree in 1983 from Olney Central College.
That college does not offer bachelor's degrees. But Frick said she didn't lie on her application. Under "No. Years Completed," Fricks wrote "4." That's how long it took her to earn her twoyear degree, she said.
Then DOC head Doug Catoe said the agency's handling of health care is improving. He said he would allow Fricks to remain in her position because he is pleased with her performance.
Members of the State Senate Corrections and Penology Committee are not as pleased with health care in the state's prison system.
"If you have a medical problem at (a state prison), then put your seat belt on because you might not be treated," said Sen. David Thomas, who chairs the committee. "And if you do get treatment, it might be inadequate."
One prisoner who had just had open-heart surgery was placed in a cell with two smokers, Thomas said. Other prisoners waited more than two weeks after breaking bones to see doctors.
Another committee member, Sen. Ralph Anderson, said the DOC " medical system needs to be overhauled. "It's the world's worst," he said. "It's very difficult for inmates to get medical attention." Then, in November, The State revealed the explosive results of an exhaustive analysis it had performed on DOC employment records: About 8 percent (333) of the state's 4,262 prison guards had criminal records, and about 6 percent (154) of 2,398 other prison workers (kitchen workers, maintenance, etc.) were hired despite having criminal records.
The convictions include assault and battery, aggravated assault, burglary, drug possession, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and weapons violations. Additionally, the newspaper reported, 15 percent of those guards who
had criminal convictions when hired went on to commit additional crimes after they were hired.
The analysis found that in the past 10 years, the DOC hired 1,035 people with criminal records. The majority, 767, were convicted for bad checks, driving under the influence or other traffic crimes. Convictions for disorderly conduct, simple assault, trespassing and shoplifting account for 251 more violations. Two were convicted of fishing or hunting violations.
The analysis uncovered 38 convictions for assault, 30 for domestic violence, 22 for drunkenness or illegal liquor possession, 19 for weapons offenses, 17 for marijuana possession, 12 for contempt of court, and six each for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, larceny or resisting an officer.
A few prison workers have been convicted of vehicular homicide, accessory to murder, aggravated assault, kidnapping, prostitution and sexual assault on minors, among others.
Then DOC director Catoe said the agency looks into whether a job applicant has "paid their debt" to society. He added that it's tough to find job applicants who want to be guards for the salaries South Carolina pays. The starting salary is a little more than $19,000.
"In some cases, we're kind of an employer of last resort," Catoe said, adding that more and more applicants now have criminal records.
Governor Hodges, who reappointed Catoe to head the DOC in 1999, had stood by the prisons director through the mounting storm of controversy surrounding the agency. But reports that prisoners assigned to work in and around the governor's mansion had sex there while he was not home were "the straw that broke the camel's back," Hodges said.
"We've got to get confidence back in the Department of Corrections," the governor said, "but the first and most important thing is to get these folks out of my house."
Hodges appointed former FBI agent Dodge Frederick to head the DOC.
Sources: The State, Spartanburg HeraldJournal, The Greenville News, Associated Press.