A closer look at prior DJJ issues following recent incident

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Published: Oct. 18, 2022 at 11:22 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Tuesday’s incident at the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice’s Broad River Road Complex (BRRC) is the latest in a string of recent issues for the agency.

The agency, which reports directly to Gov. Henry McMaster, has been led by Eden Hendrick since September of last year.

She became interim director after Freddie Pugh resigned following criticism from staff and lawmakers.

In April, the DJJ settled a civil rights lawsuit with the United States Department of Justice over conditions at the BRRC.

The settlement laid out deadlines for the agency to change policies, improve security and hire consultants.

The deadlines for DJJ to make those changes outlined in the settlement agreement range from three months to two years.

Additionally, it stipulated that DJJ would be under five years of federal oversight to ensure it makes certain safety and security improvements.

Safety issues involving both juveniles and staff have been a recurring theme for DJJ.

The DOJ published findings on DJJ’s use of force at the BRRC from 2017 to early 2020 as part of the settlement.

It found examples where staff broke a child’s arm and choked a child until they passed out.

Last April, a state audit of the agency found it dangerously understaffed.

In June of last year, staffers at the BRRC complex walked out in protest over working conditions.

In May, a 13-year-old snuck a loaded gun into the facility, prompting all staff to be retrained on search procedures. In June, a fight left two juveniles hospitalized.

A subsequent WIS investigation found agency records included allegations that the incident was a “set up” by DJJ security.

According to the DJJ’s spokesperson, one employee was fired as a result of that incident and another no longer works with the agency.

Seven juveniles got loose in July of this year, getting over razor wire and gaining access to the roof of a school building at the facility.

WIS asked DJJ Executive Director Eden Hendrick about the five-window to make necessary changes at the BRRC in April.

“A cultural change, an entire whole agency change takes time,” she said. “It takes a lot of time. Five years is a long time. I’m optimistic that we can do it. A lot of it does depend on staffing and the economy.”

At a Senate hearing earlier this month, Hendrick said DJJ currently has only about half of its correctional officer positions filled at the BRRC.

“Those are our more high-end offenders,” she said. “The BRRC is designated to be the long-end, long-term facility and so those youth tend to be more difficult and so it’s harder to keep staff.”

WIS asked McMaster’s office whether the governor still has confidence in Hendrick’s ability to lead the agency given its documented history of incidents.

In a statement, Brian Symmes, McMaster’s communications director, said, “The governor is grateful for the quick work and collaboration by the State Law Enforcement Division, DJJ, and the Department of Corrections in responding to the incident and calming the situation before it escalated into something more dangerous.

Director Hendrick has never shied away from the challenges that the agency faces, and Governor McMaster is confident that she is exactly the right person to address those challenges.”

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