COLUMBIA, S.C. June 6 2021
Security staff and teachers at the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice staged a walkout Friday morning in protest.
Employees gathered outside of the Broad River Road Correctional Institute and say the main issues are long hours, pay, morale, and dangerous conditions.
“We’re asking him (the SC DJJ Director) to care about us like we care about your juveniles,” said Officer Twana Lee, who works security at BRRC, “We just want y’all to care about us. Because we do love our juveniles. I know I love mines. Every time I work I tell them every day I love you like my kids. Again we’re not safe.”
Others are concerned that resources, like classes and job training for juveniles, are suffering because of the larger staffing and security issues.
“They need to stand up for their children because their children’s needs are not getting met. They’re not getting the education they need, they are not getting the job training they need. They’re not learning anything at this point really that can benefit them when they get out.” said Jeremy Lee, a DJJ welding teacher.
There are some security staff members within the facility, but many are part of the protest, employees said.
Republican State Sen. Katrina Shealy, of District 23 in Lexington County, showed up and spoke with reporters, adding her voice of support to the DJJ workers.
“I don’t blame them. I’m proud that they took a stand, I’m proud that they did what I saw coming,” Shealy said about the walkout, adding, “that’s the only way something is going to get done.”
Shealy said lawmakers would protect them and make sure workers still had a job after the walkout, even if it meant calling on the National Guard for backup, so workers don’t have to work long hours.
“We can increase their salary,” Shealy said, explaining that the state has money set aside for hiring that can be used to raise the salaries of juvenile corrections officers. “We’ve got that money allocated for those pay bands,” she said.
Addressing the morale issues, Shealy said, “If you give these kids something to do,” referring to programs, exercise, and games for the juveniles,” then that’s going to increase the morale of the children, which is going to increase the morale of the (workers,) which is going to increase the morale of the teachers, it goes step-by-step.”
She said she hopes Gov. Henry McMaster is listening and hears what the DJJ workers are facing.
“They deserve, like everybody else, an opportunity to make a good salary, to have time off like everybody else. They deserve to be treated fairly,” Shealy said.
To the families with children inside the facility, Shealy said she knew they were frustrated about not having visitation for more than a year due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“That’s depressing for the kids,” she said.
Shealy also expressed concern about the children in the facility not having enough to do because of the lack of staffing.
“Kids used to come out of here with a trade,” she said. “Kids don’t come out of here with anything now, except how to become a better criminal.”
Shealy called on facility management to come out and talk to disgruntled employees and reporters, saying, “Man up, get out here and talk to your employees.”
Briefed about the walkout while he was at a hurricane exercise event, McMaster answered press questions about his thoughts regarding the protest and the current state of DJJ.
“I’ll ask everyone to go on back to work. We’re well aware of the problems. We’ve asked for additional money I think 4.2 million in pay to be in the budget and it is in the budget, approved by general assembly,” McMaster said Friday, “There’s no excuse for anyone to walk off of a job particularly this kind of job where leaving their post puts not only the young people in danger but puts enormous stress on those officers who are still in facilities trying to do their job and keep everyone safe.”
The governor nominated the current director of the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice, Freddie Pough.
Pough spoke with some of the workers the afternoon of the workout, saying that a group will meet Friday afternoon to discuss immediate solutions to staffing concerns.
“We have some older dorms, so we can try to consolidate youth so we can consolidate staff, so there’s less staff needed,” said Pough, “We can hopefully decrease the potential of staff having to stay over. That’s what we’re about to work on right now.”