On the same day its leaders were doing damage control in response to a damning legislative audit – and resisting calls for a criminal investigation into alleged mismanagement – the scandal-ravaged South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice (SCDJJ) provided fresh evidence of its ineffectiveness to carry out its core function of government.
On Friday, this news outlet received reports that SCDJJ’s Broad River Road facility – located just north of Columbia, S.C. – was on lockdown after a pair of juvenile inmates were reportedly “unaccounted for.” I also received reports that assets from the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) had been requested – and employed – in an attempt to locate the two youths.
According to my sources, the drama began at around 2:00 p.m. EDT when the two juvenile inmates allegedly escaped their dormitory after a confrontation with a correctional officer. These two youths – who have reportedly escaped from the dorm in the past – seized the officer’s radio and attempted to communicate with it during the escape attempt.
“Though they never managed to leave the secured external fence, the juveniles were missing for hours on the sprawling campus,” one source said. “A SLED response team and SLED helicopter were utilized in the search.”
SLED spokesman Tommy Crosby confirmed his agency received a request for assistance from SCDJJ. He also confirmed that the two juveniles who were “unaccounted for” were located shortly after 6:00 p.m. EDT on Friday – approximately four hours after escaping their dorm.
“The facility was closed to people coming and going during the entirety of the search, and … between the search and staffing shortages, some security guards had been on duty for over twenty hours,” one source told me.
By contrast, it is not immediately clear whether embattled agency director Freddie Pough was on campus at the time of the incident – which was described to me by one source familiar with the situation as a “riot.”
Sources within the facility also confirmed reports I received late last week about a separate violent incident which allegedly took place at the same facility last Wednesday. According to my sources, a correctional officer was assaulted by as many as eight juvenile inmates during that attack.
Sound familiar? It should … it’s been like this for years at SCDJJ.
As our news editor Mandy Matney reported earlier this month, this much-maligned agency – part of the cabinet of governor Henry McMaster – was the focus of an absolutely scathing report issued earlier this month by the S.C. Legislative Audit Council (SCLAC). Auditors concluded that the agency is currently in worse shape than it was in 2017 – when a previous audit led to the resignation of the last SCDJJ director, who was appointed by former governor Nikki Haley.
In other words, my news outlet was correct when it observed last February that the cycle of ineptitude at SCDJJ had actually escalated under McMaster.
“SCDJJ officials have created a disastrous and exceedingly dangerous cycle within (their) facilities,” Matney reported in response to the audit. “They aren’t spending enough money on programs to keep incarcerated teenagers occupied and out of trouble, which has sparked an increase of violence. Adding fuel to the flames, the agency has failed to offer essential employees competitive wages, so its security staff members are leaving in droves.”
In a sprawling rebuttal “report” published over the weekend in The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper, SCDJJ officials claimed the audit was “incomplete and often inaccurate” and that the agency was “headed in the right direction” under Pough.
“We’re working on a lot of good things,” Pough told The State.
Pough has been slammed for failing to provide salary increases to front-line workers – spending that money instead on costly office renovations and pay raises for his hand-picked bureaucrats. As of this writing, SCDJJ has at least 31 employees who are paid more than $90,000 a year – not counting benefits.
His top advisor is Shaquantia “Monique” McDaniels. She is paid $107,100 a year – again, not counting benefits.
“Freddie and Monique are nothing but a ‘woke’ factory and if you don’t buy in, you are attacked,” one source familiar with the inner workings of the agency told me this week.
Pough’s pay raises to higher-income staff could have been used to provide a 14 percent pay increase for more than 100 entry-level correctional guards – front-line workers whose salaries start as low as $28,000 a year.
One source told me Pough was “paying for loyalty and protection” from his subordinates.
Pough defended his actions, telling The State he didn’t receive enough money to give raises to all front-line officers, and that doing out bonuses to some of them but not others would have been “unfair.”
Wait … so he gave the money to bureaucrats instead?
In addition to his office upgrades and other non-essential spending – including conference room murals, new furniture, lapel and tie pins, etc. – SCDJJ has also been accused of spending thousands of dollars to uphold Pough’s cult of personality, including the production of a thirty-minute video tribute prepared on the occasion of his confirmation in April 2018.
Pough reportedly told one of his subordinates he should “burn (the video) because of all the time and money spent on it.”
State lawmakers led by senators Katrina Shealy and Dick Harpootlian have been ramping up pressure on Pough and his administration in the aftermath of the SCLAC audit. Last week, Shealy and Harpootlian joined four of their colleagues in asking attorney general Alan Wilson to review the audit and investigate allegations of possible criminal activity.
To read Matney’s report on that development, click here.
As I noted last February in calling out McMaster and Pough for their ongoing failure, this news outlet “will continue to shine a light on the problems at SCDJJ.”
“The agency has been tasked with performing a core function of government – a key part of the broader criminal justice system that includes law enforcement, courts and corrections,” I noted at the time. “Unfortunately, it is not doing its job.”
In fact, it is getting worse at doing its job …
Astoundingly, McMaster seems to think covering for Pough – and giving him more money to mismanage – is the solution to the agency’s myriad problems.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children (including baby Matty, pictured above).
WANNA SOUND OFF?
Got something you’d like to say in response to one of our articles? Or an issue you’d like to address proactively? We have an open microphone policy here at FITSNews! Submit your letter to the editor (or guest column) via email HERE. Got a tip for a story? CLICK HERE. Got a technical question or a glitch to report? CLICK HERE.