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SCDJJ: The Status Quo Rolls On …

Another “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” state agency …

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Around this time a year ago, our news site was calling for new leadership at the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice (SCDJJ) – one of the many dysfunctional agencies that make up the Palmetto State’s “Mo Money, Mo Problems” government.

SCDJJ has been without a permanent director for the last fourteen months.  And went without a nominee for eleven months.

Last January, S.C. governor Henry McMaster accepted the resignation of former director Sylvia Murray – whose tenure at the agency was an unmitigated disaster.  Murray’s resignation came one day after the S.C. Legislative Audit Council (SCLAC) published a scathing report detailing various security and financial issues at the agency (many of which broke exclusively on this website two years ago).

Have things changed?  No …

More on that in a moment, though.

In mid-November, McMaster nominated interim SCDJJ director Freddie Pough as his choice to lead the agency on a permanent basis.  Pough’s confirmation is scheduled for later this week before the S.C. Senate.

According to McMaster, Pough “has worked tirelessly during his time at DJJ to implement needed changes at the agency, demonstrating his ability to lead with the vision and determination necessary for achieving DJJ’s core mission – rehabilitating and protecting the juveniles in its care.”

Is that true, though?

And should the Senate confirm him?

Those are good questions …

(Click to view)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

According to our sources, things at SCDJJ haven’t changed a bit.

“Same as it ever was,” one source close to the agency told us.

Specifically, we’re told SCDJJ’s primary juvenile detention center has experienced large-scale riots during each of the past two weekends.  Each incident reportedly involved “more than a dozen juveniles” and resulted in numerous injuries to SCDJJ guards.

“Multiple staff were injured,” a source familiar with the situation told us.

Sound familiar?  This is exactly what was happening at SCDJJ two years ago … which led to Murray being fired.

Now lawmakers are going to confirm a longtime agency bureaucrat who has presided over continued instability?

That hardly seems smart …

SCDJJ can’t complain about money.  The agency is slated to receive $134.6 million in the latest version of the fiscal year 2018-2019 budget – an increase of 2.9 percent from the previous fiscal year.   Over the previous four years, the agency has seen a 12.2 percent increase in appropriations.

Unfortunately, like so many other agencies in state government, this investment has produced nothing but more expensive failure.

One reason?  Alleged misappropriation of funds.  According to our sources, state senators set to vote on Pough’s confirmation are exploring nearly $250,000 in office renovation expenses allegedly approved by the interim director.

“That’s enough to hire five additional guards,” one frustrated senator told us.

Pough’s vehicle allowance is also drawing scrutiny, we’re told.

We tried to get some sort of comment from SCDJJ communications director Patrick Montgomery – who has always done a good job of promoting this agency’s positive news – but did not immediately receive a response from him.  In the event we hear anything back from the agency, we will be sure to let our readers know.

Again, though … none of this is surprising.

Former S.C. governor Nikki Haley rebuked all efforts to hold this agency accountable.  In fact she lashed out at state representative Kirkman Finlay – one of the few lawmakers who bothered to investigate the scandals we uncovered.

Sadly, McMaster seems to be following her lead …

As for Pough’s impending confirmation, we don’t really think the Senate has much of a choice but to give him the job.  He’s an absolutely terrible nominee in our estimation, but he is the governor’s choice – and the governor is ultimately responsible for SCDJJ.

Once again, though, we are witnessing a disturbing pattern in which high-profile failures of government lead (eventually) to changes at the top.  Unfortunately, as is the case with so many state agenciesnothing is actually changing.

Bureaucrats come and go, the root problems remain …

“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,” we wrote in March of 2016. “SCDJJ’s guards, inmates and the public deserve better than this.”

Two years later, nothing has changed …

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