What’s Going On at SCDJJ?
What’s going at SCDJJ?
When children are arrested and jailed, we separate them from adult inmates, keeping them at juvenile facilities operated by the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice (SCDJJ).
To keep the children safe from assaults and abuse by older inmates. Because they are children, and therefore they are “wards of the state” as opposed to dangerous criminals who must be separated from society. Because, when children are incarcerated by the State of SC, they are supposed to receive education, counseling, job training, and rehabilitation.
Instead, according to numerous media outlets, SC Senators, and the US Department of Justice, SCDJJ keeps SC’s children in facilities that are more dangerous than adult prison facilities where they are subjected to deplorable conditions, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect by other juveniles and by State employees.
John Doe’s Lawsuit: The Broad River Road Complex (BRCC) in Columbia, SC
SCDJJ’s website describes the Broad River Road Complex (BRCC) in Columbia, SC as if it were a summer camp, offering programs for troubled youth, a JROTC training program, middle school, and high school:
The Broad River Road Complex in Columbia, South Carolina is the agency’s long-term commitment facility. The more than 200-acre complex offers programs for boys and girls of all backgrounds and needs, including programs for kids with special needs, youth sex offenders, and those struggling with substance abuse.
BRRC is also home to the Communities in Schools (CIS) program, one of the first in the nation in a juvenile correctional setting. DJJ’s fully accredited school district provides continued education for youth, preparing students for post-secondary education. The Empowerment & Enrichment Academy of South Carolina (formerly Birchwood School) is where boys and girls attend middle and high school. “Birchwood” opened in 1975.
This campus also includes DJJ’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) program, a cooperative effort between DJJ’s school district and the U.S. Army.
This cheery description hardly fits the reality as told by both inmates and staff and reported by numerous media outlets across the state.
FitsNews is reporting on a lawsuit filed this year against SCDJJ by a juvenile who is on the autism spectrum and who has been diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety, and depression, who has alleged that he has been hurt and neglected repeatedly by SCDJJ staff at the Broad River Road Complex (BRCC) in Columbia, SC.
Among other things, the lawsuit alleges “that the SCDJJ has deprived John Doe and other children at the BRRC of basic human rights such as sanitation, water, food and education,” and that John Doe specifically was:
- Sexually assaulted by a corrections officer in a restroom (the corrections officer is still employed at the facility),
- Burned while attempting to put out a fire that broke out in Maple Dorm,
- Choked by another SCDJJ employee,
- Given a jumpsuit with a large hole in the groin area,
- Not given water for three days as he drank from a toilet,
- Pepper sprayed and suffered chemical burns,
- Held in isolation without cause, and
- Deprived of access to showers, sunlight, food, water, and education.
According to FitsNews (citing the lawsuit), John Doe has attempted suicide numerous times while in SCDJJ custody.
McMaster has Full Confidence in SCDJJ director Freddie Pough
In April, Gov. Henry McMaster held a press conference and announced that he had “full confidence” in Freddie Pough, the SCDJJ director who is currently overseeing the Department.
In June, however, the SC Senate overwhelmingly passed a vote of no confidence in the director…
SCDJJ Audit by the S.C. Legislative Audit Council (SCLAC)
As McMaster held a press conference and announced his confidence in the SCDJJ director as well as a $12 million grant for SCDJJ, the SC Senate reviewed an audit prepared by the SC Legislative Audit Council (SCLAC) that found:
- SCDJJ has misused funds allocated to the Department, “inappropriately used grant funds for costs that were outside of the periods of performance,” “inappropriately used funds… for unallowable costs,” and “misused reimbursed funds,”
- The number of security officers has decreased as the number of violent incidents has increased,
- Reported incidents at DJJ facilities have more than doubled since 2017,
- There has been a 42% increase in juvenile on juvenile and juvenile on staff violence,
- 57% of DJJ employees reported they do not feel safe at work,
- Four girls were sexually assaulted by male inmates at the Midlands Evaluation Center in December 2019,
- In November 2019, a large, out of control brawl resulted in multiple injuries and hospitalizations,
- In April of 2020, a group of inmates broke into a pod, locked it down, and vandalized it for over an hour before DJJ employees put a stop to it (see video below),
- Guards use isolation to control the juveniles because there are not enough corrections officers,
- SCDJJ’s gang problem is exacerbated by an inadequate gang intervention system and a lack of gang intervention training for staff,
- Insufficient pay for correctional officers (security staff are the lowest paid in the SCDJJ system), and
- In a random sample of 80 employees, 43 percent had one or more disciplinary actions, some with three or more reprimands in their HR files, and all but one of them were still working as officers at SCDJJ.
Conditions at SCDJJ are Unconstitutional
In February of 2020, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) found that the “‘totality of the conditions, practices, and incidents’ it discovered at Broad River Road Complex (BRRC), South Carolina’s long-term juvenile commitment facility, violated the juveniles’ Fourteenth Amendment rights:”
The DOJ found DJJ fails to keep the average daily population of 100 juveniles at BRRC reasonably safe from harm and its use of isolation is unconstitutional. Over an 11-month span from July 2018 and May 2019, “there were 134 fights and 71 assaults that resulted in 99 injuries to youths. On average, youth fights and assaults occurred every two of three days and a youth sustained an injury every third day.
Staff reports in 2017 “describe significant incidents such as youth being punched, knocked to the ground and stomped, struck in the face, grabbed by the genitals, and having their glasses broken in altercations with their peers.” The injuries included loose teeth, a bite, and a broken nose.
The DOJ also noted SCDJJ’s excessive use of solitary confinement for juveniles in exceedingly harsh conditions:
While the constitution prohibits using isolation solely for punishment of youths, DJJ uses isolation for punishment even where the youth was not a threat to health or safety. Youths were placed in isolation for “having playing cards,” “being unable to complete a drug test,” and “tattooing each other with ink pens.”
The average stay in isolation was three days, but in 2017 youth were isolated 39 times for 10 or more days. The longest stay was 225 days. On average, BRRC used isolation 94 times a month from July 1, 2018, to May 31, 2019. There were 46 instances of youth under suicide watch being placed in isolation or mental health observation.
The conditions of isolation are harsh, for the cells are dark and have no natural light. The only window in the cell was painted over “to impede the youth from interacting with other youth or staff outside.” The DOJ found instances of youths’ mental health deteriorating from prolonged isolation. In a few cases, juveniles were not provided psychiatric care after attempting self-harm.
Juvenile Criminal Defense Attorney in Charleston, SC
If your child has been charged with a crime in the Charleston area, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands how the juvenile criminal system works and who can protect your child at every step of the proceedings.
Call Charleston, SC juvenile defense lawyer Grant B. Smaldone now at (843) 808-2100 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free consultation.