COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice Executive Director Freddie Pough was questioned by state lawmakers for more than 3 hours Thursday.
He was asked to testify before a panel of state Senators and House members taking a look at a report released by the Legislative Audit Council back in April.
The report alleges staffing shortages, safety issues and a handful of other problems happening at the agency.
Pough took over the agency as interim director in 2017 and was confirmed by the state Senate to lead it in 2018.
Before Pough began speaking Thursday morning, lawmakers asked Pough to dismiss most of the staff members he had brought with him to the meeting. Senator Dick Harpootlian (D-District 20) asked why the agency, facing a staffing shortage, brought close to 30 staff members to the meeting.
Lawmakers said they have also been waiting on information from the agency.
Pough sent some of the staff back to work. While he was being questioned, he said they are taking steps at DJJ to address staffing by stepping up recruitment.
Pough told lawmakers, “When I took this job, I understood the agency needed a lot of repair. I was hopeful I would get the support from staff and stakeholders.”
Lawmakers grilled Pough on safety issues highlighted in the report and what they’ve heard from constituents. He said, “We just ask that we’re allowed to receive the help and support we need to continue the work we’ve begun.”
Sen. Harpootlian asked Director Pough why certain incidents weren’t reported to state law enforcement and other agencies. Harpootlian believes DJJ may have broken the law by failing to report these incidents.
Senator Harpootlian asked Pough if he would resign. Pough told him no.
Sen. Katrina Shealy (R-District 23) is the co-chair of the committee. Following the meeting she said, ““I think the state of the agency is disastrous. I’ve very upset about what’s going on out there. I feel like children and staff members are not safe.”
Sen. Harpottlian asked Sen. Shealy to set up a meeting with the Governor to discuss the findings of the committee.
A spokesperson for Governor McMaster sent us a statement following the meeting. Communications Director Brian Symmes said, “Our criminal justice system, including DJJ, must make improvements to their training, policies and procedures. Director Pough has a tough job leading an agency that has a long history of struggling with the difficult task of incarcerating and rehabilitating juveniles in trouble with the law. Governor McMaster will continue to work with the General Assembly to improve the agency, and more importantly, to keep juveniles from ending up at DJJ in the first place.”