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New lawsuit filed against South Carolina DJJ

FILE PHOTO of SCDJJ South Carolina DJJ Broad River Road Complex
FILE PHOTO of SCDJJ South Carolina DJJ Broad River Road Complex(Gray)
Published: Apr. 27, 2022 at 12:08 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A new lawsuit against the South Carolina Dept. of Juvenile Justice alleges that children are being kept in nightmarish conditions, calling the operations unconstitutional.

The state’s NAACP chapter, Disability Rights South Carolina and Justice 360 are suing the SC Dept. of Juvenile Justice and Interim Exec. Director Eden Hendrick, claiming that DJJ subjects children with prolonged isolation and endemic violence at their facilities.

Part of the lawsuit alleges that there is sewage water in the cells, feces on the floor, and cockroaches in the food.

In a release, the groups claim that children held at DJJ facilities are routinely subjected to violence, months of solitary confinement and a lack of educational and mental health resources.

“South Carolina exposes the children in its juvenile justice system—most of whom are Black—to barbaric conditions,” said Brenda Murphy, President of the NAACP South Carolina State Conference of Branches. “Children in custody suffer from constant violence, are isolated for weeks and months, and are denied the basic rehabilitative services they need and are entitled to. Our most vulnerable children must receive support, not punishment.”

In August of 2021, similar claims were made against the department and then-Director Freddie Pough following a well-publicized staff walk-out and protest just two months earlier in June.

In April of 2022, the Dept. of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the US Attorney’s Office announced a settlement agreement in a civil rights investigation involving DJJ. The settlement set up a series of timelines for DJJ to make changes to policies, procedures and other things.

This latest lawsuit claims that DJJ has not made improvements when it comes to implementing solutions.

“DRSC is concerned about the lack of appropriate placement and services for children placed at all DJJ facilities, including the many children in DJJ’s care who are disabled,” said Beth Franco, Executive Director of Disability Rights South Carolina.

A release from the plaintiffs said, in part:

The lawsuit, filed jointly by the ACLU of South Carolina, the NAACP, and the law firms Wyche and Jenner & Block, asks the court to declare that the department is violating the constitutional rights of South Carolina children and seeks judicial intervention to facilitate immediate remedies such as clean water, dry beds, healthy food, safety from violence, freedom from unconstitutional uses of solitary confinement, meaningful access to education and mental health resources, and accommodations for children with disabilities.

Sen. Katrina Shealy (R-Lexington Co.) was an outspoken critic of the previous DJJ administration but has been supportive of Hendrick’s nomination and tenure.

She said the situation has improved since Hendrick arrived and lawmakers are working to get her department funding to continue the trend.

“We’re doing everything in our power to fix it and the conditions out there where they had the sewage back-up and all those things, those things had been cleaned up,” she said.

She said the release regarding the lawsuit largely draws from old information.

“These new organizations didn’t feel like the DOJ went far enough, which I don’t think they’ve given this new director the opportunity to clear up issues, but they don’t know the situation as it stands right now,” she said.

Shealy said Hendrick has a “stressful job” but is taking positive steps with new leadership.

A representative for DJJ spoke with WIS News 10. They said the department has not yet been served and that it can not comment at this time.

You can read the entire lawsuit here:

PRIOR COVERAGE:

State lawmakers call for changes in DJJ and its leadership

McMaster directs SLED, Department of Administration to review DJJ policies

SC DJJ security staff, teachers walk off the job

State senators give DJJ leader a vote of no confidence

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