Since lawmakers discussed a disturbing audit on the imploding disaster at the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice (SCDJJ) last week, violence at the Broad River Road Complex (BRRC) in Columbia, S.C. has escalated as staffing shortages reach dangerous levels, according to our sources.
“It’s out of control,” a source close to the situation told us.
SCDJJ spokesman Jarid Munsch confirmed with FITSNews that three violent incidents occurred at the BRRC in the last 24 hours.
In one of those incidents, a teen inmate caused a fire in the Maple Dorm of the BRRC, according to Munsch.
“According to our fire marshal, one of our young people did an age-old trick of popping a socket in the dorm, which caused a spark and small flame. Response was quick and there wasn’t any further issue,” Munsch said.
While our SCDJJ sources claimed that the teenagers inside the Maple Dorm rioted last night, Munchsh denied those rumors.
“‘Riot’ is rarely an accurate characterization of an incident (at BRRC),” Munsch said. “This is our long-term facility. We expect the occasional fight. We’re caring for more than 100 teenagers, who have to live together and go to school together, all while navigating their own rehabilitation journeys.”
In another section of the facility, two boys got into a fight last night and a guard was assaulted while breaking them up, Munsch confirmed with FITSNews.
“These were all youths on one wing of their dorm and the staffing ratio was at the standard 1:8,” Munsch said.
In another incident in the last 24 hours, two girls got into a fight in a classroom and an officer had to use pepper spray to break them up, according to Munsch.
Because the teen detention center is so understaffed, guards have been working more 24-hour shifts at BRRC, according to our sources.
Sources told FITSNews that the SCDJJ was bringing in guards from other detention centers to help with the situation on Tuesday.
“We have long acknowledged and asked for help to address staffing shortages,” Munsch said.
Just days ago, another chaotic incident was reported on Friday at the BRRC. FITSNews founding editor Will Folks reported that the BRRC facility was on lockdown for several hours after two juvenile inmates had allegedly stolen an officer’s radio and escaped their dormitory.
A SLED helicopter helped in the search and the teens were located several hours later.
On Monday, Munsch denied and downplayed this scenario.
“Last Friday, two youths were walking with their unit to the gym for recreation time,” Munsch said. “They did not ‘escape from their dorm.’ While walking across campus, the two decided it’d be fun to go run down by the pond. They were found hanging out down there. No attempt was made to escape the facility.”
We’re hearing two different narratives between our sources at SCDJJ and the SCDJJ spokesman.
On one side, sources are saying that the situation is spiraling out of control. On the other, Munsch admits to some violence within the facilities, but brushes it off as normal teenager incidents.
While the S.C. Legislative Audit Council (SCLAC) recent report contained damning information on the SCDJJ — one of the most troubling accusations was that SCDJJ leaders falsified records on sexual assault reports and downplayed the severity of gang-related violence in incident reports.
The accusation makes one question the legitimacy of every incident report at the SCDJJ — so it’s hard to tell what exactly is going on behind the gates.
Mounting Problems At SCDJJ
Unfortunately, Gov. Henry McMaster — who hand-picked SCDJJ director Freddie Pough to fix the scandal-scarred agency — has ignored the exceedingly dangerous situation inside the teen detention centers.
In fact, at the exact same time 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.
Essentially, auditors said SCDJJ officials have created a disastrous and exceedingly dangerous cycle within its facilities. 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.
“I mean it just looks to me like a dumpster fire,” S.C. senator Dick Harpootlian said of the SCDJJ.
Since 2016, the SCDJJ has lost about 32 percent of its security staff members, according to the audit.
During that same time period, violence in SCDJJ facilities has increased by 42 percent.
Pough has been slammed for mismanaging the SCDJJ after he gave big raises to higher-up workers while guards — who are essential for safety — are forced to work long hours for low wages.
SCDJJ has at least 31 employees who are paid more than $90,000 a year – not counting benefits.
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 – frontline workers whose salaries start as low as $28,000 a year.
In other words — there is plenty of money right now for SCDJJ to fix these problems, but Pough appears to be giving the money to bureaucrats instead of frontline workers who could actually help the broken system.
Senators who reviewed the audit last week were not only alarmed that the SCDJJ was mismanaged — they were concerned officials might have committed crimes.
On Friday, six South Carolina senators sent a letter to Attorney General Alan Wilson asking his office to investigate possible criminal activity among SCDJJ officials.
“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.
Robert Kittle, spokesperson for Alan Wilson’s office, told FITSNews Thursday afternoon that the Attorney General’s Office will be looking into the audit.
Other Horrifying Incidents
Since 2017, SCDJJ has seen a few horrifying incidents that were mentioned in the audit.
“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.
Last April, a SCDJJ source sent FITSNews a video exposing how “out of control” the situation is at the BRRC.
Security footage captured a group of about 10 inmates breaking into a pod, locking it down, and completely trashing it. The video shows 20 minutes of the chaos, but a source at SCDJJ told us the incident lasted for more than an hour before officials had enough employees on duty to break it up.
The source told FITSNews that the video (below) showed fairly typical behavior.
“This type of stuff is going on every day and someone is going to get killed if something isn’t done,” a SCDJJ source previously told FITSNews. “The kids are just running wild and we don’t have anyone to respond. They’re out of control with no consequences.”
Note: FITSNews will continue to report on South Carolina’s prisons. To contact us with a tip, please email [email protected].
ABOUT THE AUTHOR…
Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an award-winning 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. Want to contact Mandy? Send your story ideas, comments, suggestions and tips to [email protected].
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