U.S. DOJ OPENS INVESTIGATION OF SOUTH CAROLINA DEPT. OF JUVENILE JUSTICE (2018)
The Justice Department has opened an investigation of the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice. The investigation will review conditions at the Broad River Road Complex, South Carolina’s long-term juvenile commitment facility, the subject of previous reports of staff subjecting youth to solitary confinement and physical abuse (see below). The investigation will also review whether the Department of Juvenile Justice violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. Click here to read the DOJ’s Community Notice Release.
REPORTS CALL FOR REFORM OF SOUTH CAROLINA’S JUVENILE FACILITIES (2017)
South Carolina’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) has received national attention for reports of unsafe conditions and harmful practices in youth facilities. Recent media coverage has shed light problems within the Department, leading members of the South Carolina General Assembly to order a Legislative Audit Council Report. The January 2017 Legislative Audit Report uncovered serious concerns, including high rates of violence at DJJ facilities, poor staffing models, and inadequate treatment for children in custody. The Legislative Report led to the resignation of the DJJ director.
In April 2017, South Carolina’s Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Organization issued a call to action for lawmakers in the form of a report, Effective Solutions to South Carolina’s Juvenile Justice Crisis: Safety, Rehabilitation, and Fiscal Responsibility. The report provides recommendations to create an improved juvenile justice system that reduces recidivism, rehabilitates children in smaller facilities, keeps children and juvenile justice staff safe, and more spends tax dollars more efficiently. On any given day in 2016, an average of 16.8 percent of all children housed at DJJ’s Broad River Road Complex were in segregation. At times that number is as high as 20%. Children in segregation are kept either in a “crisis management unit,” where children are typically kept in individual cells for up to twenty-three hours each day, or in the “intensive treatment unit.” The median length of time spent in the “crisis management unit” is ten days, while stays in the “intensive treatment unit” ranged up to forty-seven days, with a median of eighteen days. The report also features quotes from young people who experienced solitary confinement:
“While in lock-up we receive barely an hour of less for recreation. So most of the time in my cell with myself with a window that’s painted that preventing us from seeing outside.”
“During the 23 days here I’ve only been outside once, we don’t go to school, never been to the cafeteria, and not allowed to socialize with each other.”
“Being in lock-up makes me feel suicidal because I’m claustrophobic. And most of the time were always in a cell. It makes me feel like going through the wall it causes me to be angry, frustrated, and confused.”
South Carolina DJJ has a history of litigation over abusive conditions. In 1990, the P&A brought a class action against DJJ, asserting that overcrowded and understaffed juvenile prisons, filthy conditions, and lack of treatment were unconstitutional. The litigation alleged that DJJ guards regularly used tear gas to discipline children and that the state failed to provide a “minimally adequate level of programming” to help children rehabilitate. After five years of litigation, U.S. District Court Judge Anderson issued the Alexander S. opinion, which largely left the task of creating measurable improvements in DJJ to the state of South Carolina.
The 2017 report called on the South Carolina General Assembly to:
- Limit the number of children housed at DJJ’s Broad River Road Complex
- Reduce DJJ commitments by placing limits on commitments for youth with minor offenses
- Eliminate or sharply reduce the use of secure evaluation centers
- Pace children with serious mental illnesses and intellectual disabilities at appropriate treatment facilities
- Enhance mental health treatment for those children who do remain in DJJ custody
- Improve the data available for DJJ to make informed choices about the direction of DJJ