- Associated Press - Friday, April 7, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Four inmates were found dead Friday morning in a dorm at one of South Carolina’s maximum-security men’s prisons, authorities said.

The inmates were found at Kirkland Correctional Institution in the capital city, Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling told The Associated Press. Stirling did not say how they died.

Department spokeswoman Sommer Sharpe identified the four inmates in a news release as John King, 52; Jason Kelley, 35; Jimmy Ham, 56; and William Scruggs, 44.

King was serving time for a variety of crimes and had a projected release date of October 2020. Kelley was serving 15 years for assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature. He was scheduled for release in August 2020.

Ham was scheduled for release this November after serving a sentence for a variety of offenses. Scruggs was sentenced to life in prison for murder and first-degree burglary.

Stirling said he asked the State Law Enforcement Division to assist Corrections police with their investigation. Coroner Gary Watts confirmed he was investigating four deaths at the prison but wouldn’t give any details about how the inmates died.

Kirkland operates a specialized housing unit for the state’s most dangerous inmates, an assessment and evaluation center for new inmates sentenced to more than three months, and a 24-bed infirmary, according to the Corrections website.

The prison has been the scene of previous violence. In 2015, two inmates held two nurses hostage with homemade knives for seven hours after forcing their way into a nursing station where prescription drugs were kept. One nurse’s throat was cut, but she survived.

Last year, three corrections officers at Kirkland were fired after officials said they tried to kill an inmate in their care. Authorities said the officers, who were charged with attempted murder and misconduct in office, stabbed an inmate while he was handcuffed.

Their cases are still pending.

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Kinnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read more of her work at https://bigstory.ap.org/MegKinnardAP .

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