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Activists renew push for juvenile justice reform bill after turbulent summer

Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 7:29 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice has a new acting director and on Thursday juvenile justice activists advocated for new laws to govern the system.

RELATED STORY | SCDJJ Director Freddie Pough resigns from agency

Speakers at the Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children voiced their support for S.53, a broad reform bill which would impact how children are handled before, during, and after their DJJ custody.

It would limit who enters department custody, establish a bill of rights for those detained, end automatic enrollment to an alternative school for those released, among other changes.

Vivian Anderson, Founder of Every Black Girl, Inc., spoke at the hearing in support of the bill and put emphasis on dismantling the school to prison pipeline in her interview with WIS.

She said the change at the department is an opportunity for broader improvements.

“Right now when somebody new comes in right? I think we’re at a pivotal point because we’ve got elections coming up all around right? Whoever’s coming in, it’s our opportunity to put pressure and look for a way to really hold people accountable, and hold them to something. I’m always, I’m that optimistic, I really am,” she said.

Juvenile justice policy researcher Aleksandra Chauhan also spoke at the meeting in support of the bill.

She described to WIS her reaction to public concerns expressed by staff and lawmakers over the previous months.

“It was painstakingly frustrating this is, this was the days when I would have a hard time getting out of bed. That’s how frustrating it was,” she said.

She went on to state:

“The bill is absolutely a necessary step to help with the challenges the agency experiences, and [Acting DJJ Director] Ms. [Eden] Hendrick has inherited a chaotic mess over there and it will take time for her and her leadership to step in and see the effects,” she said.

Sen. Gerald Malloy (D-Darlington) sponsored the bill and Sen. Katrina Shealy (R-Lexington) co-sponsored it.

Outgoing DJJ Director Freddie Pough also expressed support for it in response to an April independent study.

It failed to get out of the senate committee during the last two legislative sessions.

Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) is on the Children’s Committee and said COVID-19 derailed previous efforts. He said he’s not sure about its’ success in the upcoming session but said the increased scrutiny on the process will help. “We’ve got new leadership there now and we will talk to the new folks and see if they can help us in that regard.”

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