COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — South Carolina lawmakers said they will continue to look into concerns highlighted by a Legislative Audit Council review of the state Department of Juvenile Justice.
The report, released last month, claims staffing shortages at the state agency have lead to an increase in violent incidents.
Other concerns include lack of timely medical care for juveniles and violations of security procedures, among other things.
The Legislative Audit Council said, “The monthly average of recorded incidents at DJJ’s secure facilities has more than doubled in recent years.”
They wrote in their report, there was a 42% increase in incidents involving juvenile-on-juvenile or juvenile-on-staff violence.
A joint Senate and House committee met Wednesday morning to discuss the findings in the report.
Senator Katrina Shealy (R-District 23) said the panel will continue to look into this report and will be speaking with DJJ officials soon.
She said, “Everybody’s worried about management. We don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings either, but there are a lot of children out there. You all need to be thinking about them.”
Some lawmakers on the panel have requested an investigation from the state’s Attorney General office into some of the findings.
DJJ Executive Director Freddie Pough said some improvements are currently being made at the agency. He said they are focused on ‘changing the culture’ at DJJ.
He said addressing staff shortages is one of their priorities, even before the report came out. Last May, they began referral and bonus programs to bring in more frontline staff.
In a phone interview Director Pough said, “It’s been a struggle. But we know there is strength in numbers and we know that it makes staff feel safe. It makes the young people safe,” he went on to say, “Our recruiters are on the road weekly, going to job hiring events and trying to attract staff.”
Pough said they’re looking forward to their chance to speak to the committee studying the report. He said there are a handful of new initiatives underway at the agency to make improvements.
He also said they’re looking at improving their camera surveillance system. Along with requesting more money to raise the starting salaries for workers.
He said, “My staff and I look forward to the opportunity to explain and give some more context and background on some of the things that have been reported out.”
The LAC report also claims that DJJ only implemented about half of the recommendation they gave the agency in 2017.