On Thursday, six South Carolina senators sent a letter to Attorney General Alan Wilson asking his office to investigate possible criminal activity among officials at the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice (SCDJJ).
The letter comes a day after the corrections and penology subcommittee reviewed a damning audit on the SCDJJ by the S.C. Legislative Audit Council (SCLAC).
“We were shocked to hear many of the disturbing findings, ranging from potentially covering up instances of sexual assault and abuse to falsifying records and misuse of funds,”S.C. senators Katrina Shealy, Shane Martin, Mia McLeod, Dick Harpootlian, Brian Adams, and Michael Johnson, who are all on the subcommittee, said in the letter provided to FITSNews.
In the letter, lawmakers urged Wilson to review the audit and investigate allegations of possible criminal activity.
Robert Kittle, spokesperson for Wilson’s office, told FITSNews Thursday afternoon that the Attorney General’s Office will be looking into the audit.
“We appreciate the senators’ letter and intend to thoroughly review the audit report,” Kittle said. “We will then make a determination as to whether a further law enforcement investigation is necessary.”
The letter was also sent to Acting U.S. Attorney Rhett DeHart, Inspector General Brian Lamkin, and Gov. Henry McMaster — who hand-picked SCDJJ director Freddie Pough to fix the scandal-scarred agency in 2017.
At the same time as senators held a hearing to review the scathing SCDJJ audit on Wednesday, McMaster attended a press conference where he praised Pough and announced a $12 million federal grant for SCDJJ. Senators addressed the disconnect in the letter.
“We are greatly concerned with DJJ’s ability to responsibly manage these funds in light of the LAC’s findings,” the senators said in the letter.
The audit provides evidence of what sources have been telling FITSNews for years — SCDJJ is spiraling out of control as the number of security officers decreases and the number of violent incidents climbs.
Auditors concluded that the agency is now worse than it was in 2017, when SCLAC’s last audit led to the resignation of the former SCDJJ director, who was appointed by Nikki Haley.
Senators who reviewed the audit yesterday were not only alarmed that the SCDJJ was mismanaged — they were concerned officials might have committed crimes.
“Through your resources available to you as Attorney General, we are hopeful that we can hold accountable anyone who may have acted improperly or criminally,” senators said in the letter.
On Wednesday, lawmakers processed a lot of troubling information from the SCDJJ audit — starting with the fact that Pough sent an email to all SCDJJ workers at the beginning of the investigation essentially telling employees not to cooperate with auditors.
“I find this almost like an obstruction of justice,” Harpootlian said yesterday.
Most of the problems detailed in the SCLAC report revolve around SCDJJ’s staffing shortage and the agency’s inability to retain qualified staff who can keep the facilities safe. SCDJJ has lost over 150 security positions since 2017 while violence has increased by 42 percent at its facilities.
“I mean it just looks to me like a dumpster fire,” Harpootlian said of the SCDJJ.
When auditors asked SCDJJ employees who work with youth if they feel safe at work, 57 percent said no — a large increase from 2017 when 30 percent of staff working with youth said they didn’t feel safe at work.
Since 2017, SCDJJ has seen a few horrifying incidents that were mentioned in the audit.
In December 2019, four girls were allegedly sexually assaulted by male inmates at Midlands Evaluation Center.
“DJJ’s internal investigation into this incident found that it was caused, in part, because supervisory security staff were assisting with regular juvenile transport, and were therefore unaware of the current locations of other juveniles in the facility,” the report said.
Last year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) found that conditions at the Broad River Road Complex (BRRC) in Columbia, South Carolina, violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution.
The DOJ released an 18-page report detailing the level of the violence, abuse and harsh conditions at the Columbia facility housing an average of over 100 teens who are all under 17-years old.
According to the audit, the increase of violent outbreaks combined with the staff shortage is likely contributing to the unconstitutional use of isolation. Because there aren’t enough guards to control the inmate population, guards are resorting to isolation as a last-ditch effort.
Senators were clear in the letter — they aren’t letting this go until the SCDJJ is safe again for both the kids and the staff.
“We intend to continue meeting until we are satisfied that the children and correctional staff at DJJ are safe and supported and can further ensure the accountability of management and leadership,” senators said in the letter.
The subcommittee will meet again in two weeks to finish reviewing the report. After that, senators will then call on witnesses — including Pough, who could be asked to resign.
The State Newspaper was first to report on the SCDJJ letter to Wilson.
Click here to read the full audit…
This story is developing. Stay tuned.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR..
Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an investigative journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Mandy also hosts the Murdaugh Murders podcast. Want to contact Mandy? Send your tips to [email protected].
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