COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) – A consultant hired by the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice is recommending 110 changes at the agency. DJJ hired Larry Reid, with Correctional Consulting Services, to look at the agency’s policies and procedures after a riot at its Broad River facility in Columbia last February.
He gave a report, via Skype, to a joint subcommittee of state senators and House members Wednesday at the Statehouse.
Reid told lawmakers he looked at 470 “best practices” and found 77 that required recommendations for changes at DJJ. He made 33 other recommendations in 17 other areas. DJJ Directory Sylvia Murray says the agency has already implemented about 35 percent of the recommendations.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” she told lawmakers. “It’s just going to take us a while to get there, but know that we are actively working to make the agency better, make the juveniles safe, and make them better so that when they leave us that they don’t fall into that cycle of the recidivism being one of the obstacles in making them to come back to us.”
The riot in February resulted in 12 youth inmates being arrested on charges ranging from attempted murder to sexual assault, arson, burglary, and malicious destruction of property.
One concern lawmakers raised with Reid is that DJJ correctional officers are not armed. Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, says, “Sixty percent of the guards at the agency, at Broad River, as I understand it, are female, and they do not have the ability, other than their own hands, to defend themselves or to subdue a juvenile that has engaged in activity that they should not have engaged in.”
He wants DJJ to study whether to equip officers with pepper spray and train them how to use it. DJJ spokesman Patrick Montgomery says that, since May, DJJ’s Police Force has been carrying pepper spray, but not its correctional officers. He says pepper spray has been used once.
“The evening of June 23rd, a teenage male was sprayed after continuum use of force directives of verbal commands and physical redirection were not effective. The juvenile was sprayed, secured by staff and steps were taken to decontaminate the juvenile as well as seen by medical staff. The incident began when the juvenile destructed property and threatened the staff physically,” Montgomery says.
Reid told lawmakers that most states do not use pepper spray on juveniles because of negative public perception and the likelihood of lawsuits.
Some of the recommendations that DJJ has already put in place are searching juveniles head-to-toe after they meet with family members, to make sure they’re not carrying any weapons or drugs back inside, and searching all vehicles that come into the fences.
DJJ says it also has staffing issues and is conducting a staffing study that’s due this Friday. DJJ says it has 236 security positions and 8 vacancies.