The South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice will reform its beleaguered central prison for youths under a settlement agreement with the federal government, reports the Associated Press. The agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice follows a 2020 DOJ report that ordered the state to make changes at the Broad River Road Complex in Columbia or face a lawsuit. Federal investigators found state officials were violating the rights of incarcerated youths by failing to protect them from fights, forcing them to spend days or weeks in isolation for minor offenses and failing to get them mental health treatment when they threaten to harm or kill themselves.
The Justice Department reiterated those findings in court filings, observing that agency staff harm children with excessive force such as choking, punching, kicking, and twisting arms; and that the agency doesn’t thoroughly investigate abuse allegations. State officials agreed to ensure facilities are properly staffed, offer rehabilitative programming and revise use-of-force policies. The state also agreed to hire consultants on staffing and behavior management, overhaul its security camera system, limit its use of solitary confinement and adequately train its staff, among other measures. A state audit last year found a number of issues, from an increase in violence at agency facilities to students missing GED testing because they were locked up in isolation units. Staffing and transportation shortages meant some youths did not receive adequate and timely medical care.