Prisoners armed with homemade knives rioted for more than seven hours inside a maximum-security facility, leaving seven prisoners dead, and bodies "literally stacked on top of each other," an inmate told The Associated Press on Monday.  At least 17 prisoners were seriously injured while inmates were fighting uninterruptedly before authorities regained control of the Lee Correctional Institution around 3 am Monday, said South Carolina prison spokesman Jeff Taillon.
The officers did not immediately say what triggered the violence in the prison. which houses some of the worst and longest-running criminals in the state. No prison guard was injured.
The prisoner who saw the riots exchanged messages with AP on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to have a cell phone and fears reprisals from other inmates.
He also did not say what started the revolt but said that most of the prisoners in the prison are gang members and saw several attackers mock a rival gang member who was seriously injured.
"I just saw three dead on the sidewalk outside my unit, still alive and breathing, but barely," said the inmate.
The riots were the latest violence in the South Carolina prison system, where at least 20 inmates have been killed by other inmates since early 2017. At Lee Correctional, an inmate held a guard hostage for 90 minutes in March and another killed another prisoner in February.
The inmate who spoke with AP said that many of the cellblocks were already broken before the riots and that he and other prisoners roamed around freely Hours after the violence began, no correctional officer or medical staff attended to the dead or moribund, he said.
"More than two hours have passed, but no Correction Officer (CO) has responded to this unit, and no medical staff member has attempted to provide any help," he wrote. "The CO never tried to help, or suppress the disturbance, they just sat in the bubble of control, they called the problem, then they sat on their collective donkeys."
Most of the murdered inmates were stabbed with homemade knives or cut while the rest seemed to have been defeated, Lee County Coroner Larry Logan told AP
"How else are you going to die in prison? They have no weapons," Logan said on the phone as he headed to a hospital to finish identifying the dead.
Injured inmates required medical attention outside the prison, which is located 40 miles east of Columbia.
The South Carolina Department of Corrections tweeted that the deaths occurred in several inmates in prison fights in three housing units. It started around 7:15 p.m. Sunday.
The coroner said that when he arrived it was a chaotic scene of fighting everywhere. Logan said the state correctional facility Lee, like most other prisons in South Carolina, is struggling to find enough workers, but he does not think anything can be done once things get out of control.
"If everyone has an uprising, they will always have a lack of staff," Logan said.
The maximum security facility in Bishopville is home to some 1,500 inmates. Two officers were stabbed there in 2015.
Deaths in Lee are the most frequent in any prison in South Carolina in recent years. Four prisoners were killed last year by a pair of prisoners at the Kirkland Correctional Institution.
The riots were the most recent violence in a system where 12 prisoners were killed by other prisoners last year and 250 prisoners were attacked so severely in 2016 and 2017 had to be treated in external hospitals, according to public records obtained by The Post and Courier of Charleston.
The 250 inmates taken to the hospital after the assaults in the last two years were almost double the previous two years, the newspaper reported.
Gob. Meanwhile, Henry McMaster expressed support for state prison chief Bryan Stirling.
McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes said the governor has "full confidence" in Stirling's ability to run the state Department of Corrections.
Jeffrey Collins contributed to this report.