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Acting DJJ Director gives lawmakers update on embattled agency

Published: Oct. 19, 2021 at 8:22 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - One month into her tenure, the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice’s Acting Director told lawmakers she’s making changes in her new role.

Acting Director Eden Hendrick spoke to the State Senate Corrections and Penology Subcommittee Tuesday morning.

The same subcommittee grilled her predecessor Freddie Pough and called for his removal over the summer, however, Tuesday’s hearing served as more of an informational session.

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Hendrick told the lawmakers of her plans to return DJJ offices to the Broad River Road Complex and said her office would be ready on Wednesday.

Employees and lawmakers had called out Pough for a disconnect the separated offices created.

Additionally, she told lawmakers the department’s efforts on “regionalization” would be “indefinitely paused” due to a lack of manpower and the need to focus on other issues.

The department had been working to move children to facilities nearer their homes as compared to one main facility.

Personnel changes were another theme of the meeting.

Hendrick told lawmakers she was in the process of restructuring the department and a plan to do so would be forthcoming.

However, she said leadership changes have already begun with the head of the HR department resigning, the Warden of the Broad River Road Complex being demoted, and new leadership at the fiscal department.

To bolster staffing, she told lawmakers she would be working to bring in a third-party company to oversee recruitment. Hendrick said one-third to one-half of the HR staff had left, including all the recruiters from recent years.

She reported there were 232 Juvenile Corrections Officer vacancies, including 74 at the Broad River complex.

Sen. Michael Johnson (R-York) asked Hendrick about her expected timeline to improve the staffing situation. She initially said 1 to 6 months, but then elaborated by stating staffing is a universal problem.

“I’d like to be optimistic and say 1 to 6 months, but it could take a year, it could take more than that,” she said.

An August WIS investigation found the Laurel Dorm for lock-up had problems with sewage.

Hendrick told WIS those problems were isolated and have not been present during her time as the department’s leader.

She told lawmakers the majority of children have been moved out of the dorm and it’s her hope to no longer need it in two years.

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