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SC Juvenile Justice Scandal Deepens




The conventional wisdom surrounding the scandal currently enveloping the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice (SCDJJ) is that everything at the agency was going just fine until Margaret Barber, S.C. governor Nikki Haley‘s first choice to run the agency, resigned her post.

The belief is that things have fallen apart under Barber’s replacement, Sylvia Murray, who took over the agency in January 2015.

SCDJJ is currently staring down at least one legislative investigation – maybe two – in the aftermath of a massive riot that took place at the agency’s Broad River Road facility in northwest Columbia, S.C. last month.

One female juvenile inmate was allegedly raped during the riot, which resulted in extensive damage to numerous buildings as well as law enforcement vehicles – and injuries to several staff members.  Also, one male inmate escaped during the melee – although SCDJJ wasn’t aware of that until the inmate was arrested the following day after an agency employee spotted him in a Dollar General store.

All of these developments – the riot and the subsequent investigations – were reported on exclusively by this website.

So … is all of this chaos Murray’s fault?

That’s the way the scandal seemed to be trending.  In fact, sources tell us one of Murray’s direct subordinates resigned from the agency on Friday – prior to the gaveling of a single legislative hearing.  We’re also told Murray’s head is very much on the chopping block – and that Haley (who has already lost six cabinet directors due to various scandals) is eager to sacrifice her if it means avoiding a drawn-out and very public reminder of how totally tuned out she continues to be when it comes to running the state.

Will things go down that cleanly?

Originally, we thought that they might … but it’s now looking as though the roots of this scandal run far deeper than we could have possibly imagined.  In other words, this is going to be a much bigger headache for Haley.

Sources close to the agency tell us the scandal that’s swirling over SCDJJ isn’t exclusively Murray’s fault.  In fact they say things have been slowly unraveling at the agency ever since 2012 – when Barber stopped using more traditional disciplinary methods and fully embraced the so-called Balanced And Restorative Justice (BARJ) model.

The goal?  Creating “a more therapeutic environment.”

Wait … what?

Look, we’re all for rehabilitative justice … especially when it comes to working with juveniles.  But a quick look at this approach reveals it to be little more than bureaucratic double-speak – political correctness run amok.

According to a fact sheet released by the agency (.pdf here), the BARJ model is intended as “a response to crime that allows for active participation by victim, community, and offender in the justice process.”

“It is a values framework which recognizes that justice is best achieved by building, or re-building, relationships between crime victims, the community, and juvenile offenders,” the agency’s BARJ propaganda added.

This framework “seeks a response to crime that embraces three basic goals, represented here by the sides of a triangle – each depending on the other for success.”

Take a look …

(Click to enlarge)


(Pic via SCDJJ)

So … is this touchy-feely, three-sided triangle nonsense working?  No.  Not even a little bit.

“Since the inception of BARJ there has been a major increase in staff assaults (and) injuries and violent incidents,” a source close to the agency tells us.

For example …

… there was a juvenile who was allowed to go off campus and learn to box. He was always a discipline problem, but that didn’t stop the administration from allowing him to take the lessons. He, in turn, assaulted a staff member who sustained severe injuries almost resulting in his death. In an effort to keep it out of the media the staff was removed from the facility and put in a state vehicle by several employees and transported to the hospital. This employee reached a settlement agreement with DJJ and is now assigned to a permanent position at the front gate for the remainder of his tenure with the agency. The juvenile however after his release within the last 3 months has been charged with murder and is now awaiting trial and sentencing.

Sources at the agency confirmed this account, although they refused to provide us with the name of either the inmate or the injured officer.  We are in the process of filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for that information, however, and will provide it to our readers as soon as we obtain it.

“BARJ is a failure, but they refuse to see it,” our source said, referring to SCDJJ leadership.  “Under BARJ discipline is nonexistent which is why the juveniles have basically taken over.  They are suppose to be held accountable for their actions through unit conferences and community conferences which for the most part advise the juvenile to write letters of apology to those who they have harmed.”

More specifically, the source added that “efforts to maintain shorter lockup hours has resulted in juveniles who are supposed to be under closed custody for security reasons being allowed to sit for hours at a time with their cell doors kept open creating an unsafe environment for staff and other juveniles as well.”

These lax security measures have contributed to the recent ramp-up in violence – including last month’s riot – one agency employee said, confirming our source’s information. We’re not the only ones getting these troublesome reports, either.

This culture of appeasement was specifically referenced by S.C. House legislative oversight committee chairman Weston Newton in his letter last week notifying Haley that her cabinet was under investigation … again.

“The Committee has received allegations that management sides with juveniles over employees and that juveniles are not being held accountable for their behavior,” Newton wrote.  “It has been alleged that event reports may be discarded as there seems to be no follow up after they are submitted, especially when the reports include juveniles attacking guards. The Committee has received allegations that management pressures employees to not file charges against juveniles.”

Scary stuff …

In delving deeper into this mess, we’re not trying to absolve SCDJJ’s current leadership of blame – as it seems clear they deserve a superfluity of it.  We are simply trying to figure out what happened – and why.

Public safety is a core function of government – and South Carolina taxpayers spend billions of dollars a year with the expectation that it will be provided to them effectively, efficiently and with maximum transparency.  It is not some politically correct buzzword to be slapped on the side of a bureaucratic diagram.

SCDJJ’s guards, inmates and the public deserve better than this.