Another day, another graphic headline attesting to the out-of-control violence at the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice (SCDJJ) – a state agency I recently described as “dysfunctional, dilapidated (and) dystopian.”
What happened now?
According to sources inside the agency, a female juvenile inmate has been accused of raping another female juvenile inmate. This incident reportedly occurred on the evening of Saturday, August 28 at the Evergreen dormitory – an all-female wing of the notoriously understaffed Broad River Road Complex (BRCC).
After the alleged sexual assault, one of the two inmates involved in the incident attempted to commit suicide, sources inside the agency confirmed.
“(She) tried to hang herself,” a source familiar with the situation told me Monday, referring to the juvenile inmate.
This news outlet has been provided with the names of both the alleged assailant and her victim, however we are declining to publish the information at this time.
Also, the situation is in flux as Evergreen was reportedly evacuated on Monday due to an infestation of serpents.
“Snakes are coming through the drain in Evergreen,” a source familiar with the situation told me.
BRCC borders Harbison State Forest, one of the largest undeveloped regions of the South Carolina Midlands. Also, both the forest – and the agency – are bordered to the east by the Broad River.
SCDJJ has dealt with numerous plumbing issues at BRCC in recent months, which could be part of the problem.
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The latest violence at SCDJJ comes less than a week after agents of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) were called to BRCC to help quell a “disturbance.” It remains unclear exactly what happened inside the facility, but the violence unfolded just hours after embattled SCDJJ director Freddie Pough rolled out his latest dog and pony show in response to the deteriorating conditions inside his agency – which has been the focus of multiple state and federal inquiries over the past two years.
The week before the “disturbance?” A 16-year-old male juvenile inmate was beaten within an inch of his life by other inmates who were reportedly wielding a “metal-pole-like weapon.”
“They left me alone,” the young man said, per his attorney.
Also last week, news director Mandy Matney filed a report on a lawsuit filed by two women whose children were allegedly “held in isolation for months following a staff walkout in early June.”
The staff walkout referenced in Matney’s report was in response to the worsening situation at SCDJJ – its unsafe, unsanitary facilities and the fact guards have been forced to work 24-hour and 36-hour shifts in recent weeks due to chronic staffing shortages.
SCDJJ has been plagued for years by a dwindling contingent of guards, by misappropriated resources and by an overall lack of leadership from Pough and his staff. The staffing shortages in particular were cited in a report issued earlier this year by the S.C. Legislative Audit Council (SCLAC) – which concluded Pough has been wasting money that could have been spent hiring more guards (and paying them better salaries).
The result? According to the SCLAC report, SCDJJ has lost over 32 percent of its security staff since 2017 – while violence has increased by 42 percent at its facilities over the same time frame.
A report issued last February by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) cited staffing shortages as a contributing factor in the rise of violence, making SCDJJ a place which “seriously harms youth or places them at substantial risk of serious harm from other youth.
“Nothing has changed,” one guard at the facility told me recently.
Pough was hand-picked by governor Henry McMaster to fix this troubled bureaucracy in 2017 after a scathing audit forced the resignation of former governor Nikki Haley’s director. Unfortunately, things have gotten much worse under his “leadership.” Not only is McMaster doubling down on his support of Pough, though, he is accosting lawmakers trying to hold him accountable.
According to my sources, McMaster was contacted back in the spring by a qualified replacement for Pough – a candidate with experience at the agency who was reportedly “eager to take the job and start turning things around.”
Months later, though, he has refused to take action.
“(McMaster) has an out – but he is not making the change,” one veteran lawmaker told me. “If he isn’t going to get rid of Pough, maybe it is the governor who needs to go.”
As I have frequently noted, “SCDJJ is in absolute chaos – plagued by escalating violence, debilitating shortages of front-line correctional guards, alleged mistreatment of juvenile inmates (and staff) and reports of financial mismanagement and possible misappropriation of funds by Pough and other members of his top-heavy bureaucracy.”
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. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that 2010 San Francisco Giants’ World Series lid pictured above).
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