Officials at the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice (SCDJJ) confirmed Friday morning that an incident took place last night at the agency’s main facility – which is part of the Broad River Road Complex (BRCC) just northwest of downtown Columbia, S.C.
According to a statement released by SCDJJ communications and public information director Michelle Foster, shortly after 9:00 p.m. EST on Thursday (August 17, 2023), the agency contacted the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) “for assistance with a disturbance in a housing unit.”
“Approximately seventeen youth caused damage to property within the building,” Foster’s statement noted. “No staff were injured. Two youths were transported to the hospital and returned within hour.”
Sources familiar with the incident indicated juvenile detainees set fires to multiple “outbuildings,” however SCDJJ officials downplayed those reports. According to them, a pair of small batteries were burned inside one of the pods after juvenile inmates “rubbed them together which created a spark.”
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SCDJJ – with assistance from SLED – was eventually able to “end the disturbance” and secure the youthful offenders “back within their housing unit,” according to the statement.
SLED public information director Renée Wunderlich confirmed Friday morning its agents were “requested by (SCDJJ) late Thursday evening to respond to a disturbance” at the Broad River Road facility.
“(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.”
SCDJJ was an unmitigated disaster for years under its prior director, Freddie Pough. Pough was hand-picked by governor Henry McMaster in 2017 to turn this troubled agency around. Instead, he accelerated its collapse – leaving juvenile inmates effectively in charge of its main facility.
Pough resigned as SCDJJ director in September 2021 – ten days after I lambasted SCDJJ for its culture of secrecy related to the rising violence “behind the fence.”
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.
Both state and federal authorities have warned SCDJJ that it had created an environment which “seriously harms youth or places them at substantial risk of serious harm from other youth.”
Again, Hendrick deserves credit for addressing many of these issues – and reducing violence behind bars – but problems clearly still remain.
As we have for years, count on this news outlet to keep our audience up to speed on the latest developments behind the walls at SCDJJ.
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.
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