Too many troubled kids. Too little staff. Facilities desperately in need of attention.
These and other factors have combined to create major problems inside the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice (SCDJJ)’s main facility – which is part of the Broad River Road Complex (BRCC) just northwest of downtown Columbia, S.C.
SCDJJ is one of the handful of executive agencies in the Palmetto State which reports directly to S.C. governor Henry McMaster. Its job is rehabilitating juvenile offenders – but there’s an increasing possibility that without action, the chronic problems referenced above could lead to more trouble.
That’s the word from a consultant working with the agency who shared their observations exclusively with this news outlet. In exchange, FITSNews agreed to honor the consultant’s request for anonymity.
According to the consultant, SCDJJ’s new director, Eden Hendrick, is working overtime to try and reduce occurrences of violence at the agency – and is making progress. But underlying issues remain – and until they are addressed, Hendrick and her staff are fighting an uphill battle.
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Let’s start with staffing – or more specifically the agency’s lack of it.
“(SCDJJ) has been significantly understaffed for years,” the consultant told us. “The overcrowding really started about 12-18 months ago when COVID started declining. The JDC was designed to house 72 youths for up to 90 days. Instead, we are housing 105-120 for much longer periods of time.”
As this news outlet noted in its previous coverage, SCDJJ entered 2022 with a 22-to-1 inmate-to-guard ratio – nearly three times the recommended 8-to-1 ratio. Agency leaders have been consistently unable to lower this ratio because ongoing efforts to recruit and hire new guards have been unsuccessful – even with SCDJJ offering $10,000 hiring bonuses to prospective recruits.
Many of the youths housed in SCDJJ facilities didn’t get there because they skipped Sunday School, either.
“There are about 50-55 youth with murder and other violent charges who have been awaiting waiver hearings for months, even years,” the consultant told us. “These youth are older and with more violent charges. Efforts are made to separate more vulnerable youth, but it is challenging because of the staffing, overcrowding, and deficiencies in the physical plant.”
That sounds like a recipe for trouble, and it is. Just this week, in fact, the agency dealt with yet another outbreak of violence behind its walls.
“There was an incident that involved youth causing property damage and a physical altercation that resulted in a youth being taken to the hospital to be assessed,” the consultant confirmed. “SCDJJ staff was able to contain and cease the incident without assistance from outside agencies.”
That isn’t always the case, though. Last November, a SWAT team from the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) was dispatched to the facility after an incident involving ten youths – although the incident was reportedly brought under control by the time the unit arrived.
The month before that, multiple youths assaulted a staffer and used hammers to damage property. Four months earlier, two juveniles were injured in a disturbance there.
“Our mission is to impact and transform young lives, strengthen families, and support safer communities through targeted prevention and rehabilitation,” the agency notes on its website.
But unless critically needed improvements and changes are made, that mission could prove beyond the agency’s reach.
This news outlet has covered SCDJJ closely for years. Count on us to continue reporting on this agency and efforts by its new leaders to reduce violence behind its walls …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
J. Mark Powell is an award-winning former TV journalist, government communications veteran, and a political consultant. He is also an author and an avid Civil War enthusiast. Got a tip or a story idea for Mark? Email him at [email protected].
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