In a report released on February 5, 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that conditions at Broad River Road Complex, the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice’s long-term juvenile incarceration facility, violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by placing children in its custody in serious harm by failing to guarantee their general safety and frequently abusing isolation. We’ve been sounding the alarm on these issues since 2015 when we first requested an investigation after hearing numerous reports of children being subjected to the horrific practice of punitive, prolonged solitary confinement. SCDJJ’s mission is to “protect the public and reclaim juveniles through prevention, community programs, education, and rehabilitation services in the least restrictive environment.” Instead, much like their adult counterparts, incarcerated children in South Carolina are being held in violent, inhumane conditions which place them at acute risk for permanent physical and psychological damage.
The DOJ’s recommendations for immediate intervention are essential yet incomplete. While improving conditions for incarcerated children is a non-negotiable course of action, lasting solutions to the problems plaguing South Carolina’s juvenile justice system demand our investment in alternatives to incarceration. Placing a child in custody should be reserved for only the most extreme circumstances. Unfortunately, South Carolina has allowed this exception to become the rule. As the DOJ report found, the most frequent reasons children enter custody are probation violations on old offenses and contempt of court. Many others are locked up for minor reasons such as skipping school or violating curfew.
For the children who are incarcerated, South Carolina must abolish the cruel and inhumane practice of holding children in solitary confinement. Additionally, as Director Pough has acknowledged, South Carolina must decentralize the long-term incarceration of children and keep them in their communities and close to their support systems.
While the DOJ report focused on children held in SCDJJ facilities, comprehensive reform requires South Carolina to also address the pretrial incarceration of children. Children across South Carolina are regularly held in prolonged pretrial detention and, as a result, robbed of the presumption of innocence and placed at increased risk for experiencing trauma. It is imperative that we put an end to the needless and harmful incarceration of children. It is time for South Carolina to invest our resources in ways that provide all South Carolina children with equal access to opportunities and support.