Governor Nikki Haley made an unannounced visit to the Department of Juvenile Justice’s facilities in Columbia on Tuesday while state lawmakers look into concerns about safety at the agency.
The visit came after the House Oversight Committee sent Haley a letter outlining allegations of assaults and a lack of control among teen detainees. Committee Chairman Weston Newton, R-Bluffton, indicated that committee members believe understaffing is a problem at the agency.
In the middle of the road funding debate Wednesday, State Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, said lawmakers need to know more about what happened at the Columbia facility. “Reports from the press are several juveniles set fires to multiple DJJ dormitories, damaged more than a dozen vehicles, attempted to sexually assault females that are housed,” said Lourie.
Last week, WACH-TV reported that a letter the House Legislative Oversight Committee sent to Haley’s office outlining four areas of concern at the Department of Juvenile Justice. Those areas were a perceived lack of control, lack of trust, lack of adequate staffing and concerns about the safety of employees and juveniles housed at the department.
The House Oversight Committee has been looking into DJJ this year as part of its regular review of state agencies.
A statement from the Governor’s Office gives few specifics, but said a recent incident in which more than a dozen teens damaged property is unacceptable. The statement said officials are working to strengthen security at DJJ.
Lourie said his chamber needs to know more about the incident last month. “As best as I can tell, the only information we’ve gotten from the agency is that what happened on February 26th is ‘not acceptable,'” he said. “And I think those comments may have come from the Governor’s Office.”
Haley and several state officials were at the facility in Columbia for almost three hours on Tuesday afternoon.
The concerns are tied to a February 26 incident at the department, during which lawmakers say more than a dozen vehicles were damaged, fires were set, guards attacked and juveniles attempted to sexually assault other juveniles in DJJ care.