The head of South Carolina’s Department of Juvenile Justice took another blow last week when members of the state Senate gave him a vote of no confidence in the wake of fresh indications of trouble at the agency’s juvenile prison in Columbia.
The vote by a subcommittee of lawmakers looking into troubles at the agency came after a four-hour hearing in which six current and former employees — teachers and jail officers — as well as the mother of a juvenile detainee testified about ever-deteriorating conditions for the 80 or so residents and workers at the Broad River Road Complex that serves as the state’s primary juvenile lockup.
Their boss, director of the Department of Juvenile Justice Freddie Pough, sat right behind them as they stepped to the podium. The angry mother turned around and handed him some papers to read, saying he had ignored her entreaties to get his attention. News accounts didn’t name the woman to protect her child from possible retaliation.
For the second time in a month, Pough rejected lawmakers’ suggestion that he step down. The director serves exclusively at the pleasure of Republican Gov. Henry McMaster.
Lawmakers called the hearing in the wake of a walkout less than a week earlier by about 25 workers in protest of low pay, low morale, increasing violence and severe understaffing that sometimes required employees to work as long as 36 hours straight. Some of those who testified had participated in the walkout.
The walkout followed a harsh report from the Legislative Audit Council found a significant increase in violence, problems getting timely medical care and such an overreliance on isolation to punish misbehavior that some kids missed tests to get high school diplomas.
On June 11, Pough didn’t show up for a routine meeting of the governor’s advisory council on juvenile justice, and members did not mention the no-confidence vote. He did issue a statement through a staffer in which he said “it’s all hands on deck” as the agency tries to address concerns.