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SCDJJ Needs New Leadership




One of S.C. governor Henry McMaster’s first moves in office earlier this year was to demand the resignation of embattled S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice (SCDJJ) director Sylvia Murray.

We supported McMaster’s decision, which was made one day after the S.C. Legislative Audit Council (SCLAC) released a scathing report detailing various security and financial issues at the agency (many of which broke exclusively on this website last spring).

Former S.C. governor Nikki Haley rebuked all efforts to hold this agency accountable.  In fact she lashed out at S.C. Rep. Kirkman Finlay – one of the lawmakers investigating the scandals we uncovered.

Would McMaster do better?

“Early indications would suggest (McMaster) is serious about fixing (problems at SCDJJ),” we noted at the time.

Is he, though?

We had hoped McMaster would move quickly to appoint a new full-time director at SCDJJ, but two-and-a-half months after requesting Murray’s resignation he has yet to name a replacement to this cabinet post.

Meanwhile multiple state lawmakers tell us they are receiving reports that SCDJJ is struggling to maintain order during the transitionary period – with its interim leaders increasingly relying on the extended, expanded use of solitary confinement to keep the peace.

“It’s a powder keg,” one lawmaker briefed by a group of agency whistleblowers told us.  “What do they think is going to happen when these juveniles are let out of these cages?”

Agency officials disputed the whistleblowers’ characterization of the situation.

“DJJ is continuing to protect the public and reclaim our juveniles through rehabilitation,” agency spokesman Patrick Montgomery told us.  “Our juveniles are doing well with continuing their education and rehabilitation.  Isolation is done (from) time to time when a juvenile is a threat to themselves or those around them.  It is not used as a punishment.  The goal is to gain compliance and return to normalcy quickly.  We have less than a handful in our intensive unit right now.”

Whatever the case … McMaster needs to fill SCDJJ’s leadership vacuum.  Soon.

This is one of the few agencies in state government that’s performing a core public safety function – and it needs someone at the helm who can address the current problems and chart a course for long-term reform.

SCDJJ is slated to receive $130 million in the upcoming state budget.  That should be more than enough money to do its job assuming McMaster chooses someone with a proven track record of success.

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