Lee Correctional Institution officer arrested for allegedly smuggling marijuana


A correctional officer has been arrested on accusations of attempting to bring 125 grams of marijuana hidden in her hair into Lee Correctional Institution.

Uniqueqa Akeema James face charges of misconduct in office, possession with intent to distribute marijuana and furnishing a prisoner with contraband, according to Jeffrey Taillon, spokesman for the SCDC, in a news release.

James began working for the state agency on April 3, 2017 and was arrested on July 22 by the SCDC Police Services. According to her arrest warrant, she is accused of trying to enter the front gate of the prison with a package wrapped in electrical tape that was "concealed in her hair."

The maximum-security prison in Bishopville houses some of the most violent offenders in South Carolina and is where the nation's deadliest prison riot in the last quarter-century occurred in April. Seven inmates were killed and more than 20 were injured after fighting reportedly broke out over territory, money and contraband that included drugs and cell phones, SCDC Director Bryan Stirling said at the time. The incident began in one housing unit and later separately broke out in two more, where the deaths were caused by stabbing and slashing.

Since then, at least 16 state corrections employees have been arrested on charges of bribery and bringing contraband into various facilities, including 14 who were federally indicted, a head nurse administrator at Lee Correctional and an employee at Turbeville Correctional Institution, according to previous reports from The Sumter Item. A Lee Correctional employee was arrested and charged with assault and battery in May after an incident of "excessive use of force" on an inmate.

Contraband cellphones in state prisons have been a focus of concern in recent years based off incidents that occurred at Lee Correctional and elsewhere. Judges in South Carolina and California ordered cellphone carriers to disable nearly 200 contraband cellphones used by inmates to continue organizing crimes outside within and outside the prison on Friday. Both rulings make up the most "sweeping order of its kind ever won by corrections officials," The Associated Press reported this week.

A push for the Federal Communications Commission to block cellphone signals largely cites Sumter's Capt. Robert Johnson, who worked at Lee Correctional for 15 years and was shot six times at his house and left for dead from a hit that was ordered on him from an inmate's cellphone.

Authorities have said he was the first corrections officer in the U.S. harmed by a hit ordered from an inmate's cellphone, according to the AP. Johnson, who retired from the state corrections department in 2011, underwent months of surgeries and rehabilitation and has advocated for cellphone jamming in prisons.

In May, officials said South Carolina will be the first state in the country to use drones to monitor 21 state prisons to try to keep contraband from being thrown over security fences, The Item previously reported.