McMaster directs SLED, Department of Administration to review DJJ policies

Updated: Jun. 2, 2021 at 9:52 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - In the aftermath of a critical audit, a three-and-a-half hour hearing and a closed-door meeting between elected officials -- Gov. Henry McMaster’s office announced Wednesday the Department of Juvenile Justice will be under new scrutiny.

Office spokesperson Brian Symmes confirmed to WIS that Gov. McMaster directed the Department of Administration “early last week” to review the DJJ’s HR’s practices. This includes pay, retention, turnover rate, hiring speed, and vacancy rates.

He said the goal is to make recommendations on changes for best practices on recruitment and retention. The exact timeline of the review is not clear, but the process is expected to last months.

Symmes and SLED also confirmed SLED will be independently reviewing how the DJJ handles criminal allegations and investigations to ensure best practices are being followed.

This comes after Sen. Katrina Shealy (R-Lexington) ran a May 20th hearing where lawmakers grilled DJJ Director Freddie Pough for three and a half hours, questioning his capabilities as department leader.

The hearing followed an April report from the Legislative Audit Council which found the department to be undertrained, understaffed, and growing more dangerous for workers and children.

Among the findings in the report, there was a 42% increase in incidents involving juvenile on juvenile or juvenile on staff violence from 2017.

It additionally found has not appropriately paid security staff, and there is a lack of accountability on job evaluations and descriptions.

At one point during the hearing, Sen. Dick Harpootlian (D-Richland) asked Pough if he would consider resigning, to which Pough said “no sir.”

Near the end of the hearing, Harpootlian asked Shealy to arrange a meeting with McMaster over the future of the department and Pough’s position as director.

On June 2, Shealy told WIS the meeting happened on May 25 between her, the governor, Sen. Shane Martin (R-Spartanburg), and staff members.

“We talked about the hearing like for two minutes, and the governor was not happy with the way we conducted the meeting, needless to say,” Shealy said. “He thought we were a little hard on the director, and I’ll give him that.”

“We were a little rough with some of the questions, Senator Harpootlian, that’s his nature. He asked some tough questions, but the director should have been able to answer those questions.”

Shealy said the meeting lasted an hour and half, and McMaster made clear he had no interest in changing DJJ directors.

“[The conversation] covered that we are doing, we did not treat the director fairly, that was a big part of the conversation, we were inaccurate in some of our accusations, that the senate doesn’t do a good job of confirmations, that’s why people don’t want to be on boards and commissions,” she said. “It was more of a making us out to be the bad guys.”

She said despite the meeting, there still needs to be “drastic” change in the department, and she will continue a pressure campaign.

“I wish the governor would get behind us and see what the problem is. The governor and I have always been friends, and I hope we’re still friends. The fact we don’t agree on this, I’m sorry. But I’m not going to change the way I feel. I am not going to quit working for these kids or the employees,” she said.

Symmes confirmed McMaster expressed frustrations with the senators, and supported Pough. He said the governor will work with lawmakers and Pough on improving the department.

Martin sent a statement reading:

My only comment is that I have complete faith in Sen. Shealy to conduct subcommittee hearings to produce solutions to the crisis at DJJ.

The DJJ did not respond to a request for comment.

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