Juvenile justice agency agrees to reform main prison

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The South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice announced Thursday that it will reform its beleaguered Central Juvenile Jail as part of a settlement agreement with the federal government.

The agreement with the US Department of Justice follows a 2020 report by the federal agency which ordered the state to make changes to the Broad River Road complex in Colombia or face legal action. .

Federal investigators found state officials violated the rights of incarcerated youths by failing to protect them from fights, forcing them to spend days or weeks in solitary confinement for petty crimes and failing to ensure their health mentally when threatening to harm themselves or commit suicide.

The Justice Department reiterated those findings in Thursday’s court papers, noting that agency staff injured children with excessive force, such as choking, punching, kicking and twisting arms. ; and that the agency does not thoroughly investigate allegations of abuse.

State officials agreed to ensure the facilities are adequately staffed, provide rehabilitation programs and review its use-of-force policies, according to the agreement filed in federal court. The state also agreed to hire consultants on personnel and behavior management, overhaul its security camera system, limit its use of solitary confinement, and properly train its staff, among other measures.

“We are optimistic and committed to using this settlement agreement as an opportunity to institute sweeping reforms that will have a positive impact on young people, their families, our staff and the State of South Carolina,” said Eden Hendrick, acting head of the agency, in a press release. .

Juvenile justice officials acknowledged that the federal findings on the use of force were “worrying,” but said the agency has since taken steps to address those issues.

Hendrick, who took over last fall after then-director Freddie Pough resigned, told lawmakers about his plan to overhaul the agency. She restructured the agency’s leadership, upgraded facilities, instituted sign-up and retention bonuses at the agency to try to fill vacancies for correctional officers, and asked lawmakers for funds to get young people out. mentally ill from the detention facilities in which they are illegally housed, she said earlier. year.

Pough resigned following a scathing state audit, a no-confidence vote by state senators and a walkout by correctional officers at the Broad River Road complex.

Last year’s state audit revealed a number of issues, from an increase in violence at agency facilities to students missing GED tests because they were locked in units. of isolation. Staffing and transportation shortages also meant that some young people did not receive adequate and timely medical care.

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