COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — State officials have agreed to reform the Broad River Road Complex (BRRC) in Columbia following an investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice (SC DJJ) entered a voluntary settlement agreement with DOJ. In turn, they have vowed to make what they called ‘critical’ and ‘necessary’ changes at their facility.
Back in October 2017, investigators began looking into possible civil rights violations at the agency’s main prison facility in Columbia. According to DOJ’s findings, state officials failed to reasonably protect children under their watch from youth-on-youth violence, harmed youth by using prolonged isolation, and failed to keep youth safe from excessive use of force by staff.
According to federal investigators, they reviewed hundreds use of force reports spanning from 2017 to early 2020. They said reports showed some officers using dangerous tactics on youth at BRRC. Often engaging them when they were not violent or threatening.
DOJ officials said staff at BRRC had choked, punched, kicked and twisted the arm of youth.
Interim Director Eden Hendrick took over the agency in September 2021. She said, “A lot of the things we agreed to do in the settlement agreement DJJ was going to do anyway. This is just a good starting point and a reason to do it and have someone hold us accountable for what we say we’re going to do.”
Under the agreement, DJJ will be under deadlines to make changes to staffing patterns, develop a positive behavior management program to reduce youth-on-youth violence and improve video surveillance. The agreement also requires the DJJ to limit the use of force or restraints to exceptional circumstances and improve its investigation process into use of force incidents, officials said.
Director Hendrick said, “People have realized the errors of their ways. They’ve seen how that use of force and long term isolation negatively impacts the youth we deal with.”
According to Hendrick, the use of isolation at BRRC has dramatically been reduced since she took over. She also said use of force is also down. “I think we’re doing better. The incidents in those reports are from years ago.”
DJJ officials say they have already begun installing a new camera system agency wide. Hendrick said this will help cover any area staff and youth will be in.
State officials agreed to hire outside consultants to help implement these changes and would remain under review by DOJ for the next five years. If state officials violate the agreement the lawsuit could be reinstated.