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State lawmakers call for changes in DJJ and its leadership

Updated: May. 20, 2021 at 7:59 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Thursday lawmakers grilled the head of the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice and some said they wanted to see him replaced.

DJJ Executive Director Freddie Pough attended the Joint Meeting of the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Subcommittee of the House Legislative Oversight Committee and the Senate Corrections and Penology Subcommittee.

Lawmakers questioned Pough over the Legislative Audit Council report on the department published in April.

The almost 200-page report cites issues in almost every facet of the department, including staffing, security, training, medical care, and other issues.

“I don’t for one moment come in here today to lead you all under the impression that there aren’t problems at DJJ,” Pough said. “That is not my intention today. My intention today is to acknowledge there are problems and we’re putting the pieces in place to try to fix these problems.”

Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington County, chaired the meeting and said Pough has had four years to address the issues.

“The train needs to be on the tracks, it needs to be going down the tunnel and the lights needs to be headed in the right direction. It’s not there,” she said.

Pough identified staffing as the primary challenge among many. He reported to lawmakers that his department needs 125 juvenile corrections officers.

Senator Michael Johnson, R-York, dismissed the idea of increased funding, stating the department has not used the money it’s already been allocated. The FY 2021 budget states the department is allocated a total of $147,223,555.

The most intense exchange took place between Pough and Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland County, when Harpootlian questioned his knowledge of mandated reporting laws and expressed frustration over his lack of substantive answers.

“You don’t know the law, you can’t tell me how many of the people you’re underpaying were beat up last week,” Harpootlian said. “What qualities, I don’t understand why you’re the head of this agency?”

Harpootlian asked Pough if he would consider resigning, and Pough responded “no.”

At the end of the three-hour hearing, Harpootlian asked Shealy to arrange a meeting with the governor about Pough’s position.

Shealy said she would do so and said changes have to start from the top.

The governor’s spokesperson Brian Symmes sent a statement reading:

“Our criminal justice system, including DJJ, must make improvements to their training, policies, and procedures. Director Pough has a tough job leading an agency that has a long history of struggling with the difficult task of incarcerating and rehabilitating juveniles in trouble with the law. Governor McMaster will continue to work with the General Assembly to improve the agency, and more importantly, to keep juveniles from ending up at DJJ in the first place.”

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