[Reprinted from The State]
Opinion - Editorial Columns
Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009
Prevost: DJJ returning to pre-settlement days
By GLORIA PREVOST - Guest Columnist
On Dec. 10, 2003, the state ended 13 years of litigation about appalling conditions at Department of Juvenile Justice facilities, entering into an agreement with legal representatives of juveniles committed to the agency.
The agreement was intended to ensure compliance with U.S. District Judge Joseph Anderson’s 1995 order requiring extensive improvements in security, treatment and classification of juvenile offenders to meet minimum constitutional standards. Both DJJ and the plaintiffs’ representatives recognized that compliance with Judge Anderson’s order would require a continuing financial commitment by the state.
But since the state budget crisis began, DJJ’s appropriations have been reduced 23 percent. Since DJJ receives virtually no federal funds to cushion the blow, the agency has been forced to close dormitories at its long-term institutions; terminate many of the staff providing vocational, recreational and other support services; and close group homes where children could receive treatment proven to stop juveniles from becoming repeat offenders. DJJ has lost more than 250 full- and part-time employees.
In the 2003 agreement, DJJ promised to “continuously provide programming and rehabilitative services that are rationally related to and geared toward correcting the behavior of all juveniles committed to its care.” The agreement recognizes the link between security and treatment and requires that funding be provided for both: “adequate security cannot be consistently maintained unless reasonably adequate funding for security staff, for facilities and for treatment and programming staff exists.” The agreement requires DJJ to obtain funding that will, “at a minimum, be sufficient to meet the constitutional minimum standards and requirements established in Judge Anderson’s Orders.”
Under the leadership of former Family Court Judge Bill Byars, the agency saw its appropriations increased significantly since 2004, and as a result was able to improve the prevention efforts that reduce juvenile crime, divert juveniles from institutions to community-based services and provide more services that enable juveniles to return to the community successfully.
Community support dramatically increased for prevention programs such as after-school centers and construction of a new center for family visitation. Security improved in the long-term institutions, in part because of new, better-designed dormitories. DJJ schools have received “Palmetto Gold” status for six consecutive years. External reviews required by the agreement found compliance with the court’s order.
But that is all in danger now.
If DJJ does not have its funding restored, more juveniles will be unnecessarily committed to the long-term institutions, because community alternatives are not available. While in the institutions, they will no longer receive the vocational and social skills training required by the agreement to enable them to succeed when they return to their communities and schools. The inevitable result of these cuts will be a return to pre-lawsuit conditions of overcrowding and violence at facilities and an increased number of juveniles committing crimes in the community. The cuts will have an even more severe impact on juveniles with disabilities, who require additional services.
South Carolina was moving from its status as one of the worst states in the country for children in the juvenile justice system to national leadership in community programs. Now years of efforts to comply with the court’s orders and the agreement have been destroyed in only six months. Once again, the state will violate its duty to meet even minimum constitutional standards. This must not happen. The state must honor its contract.
Ms. Prevost is executive director of Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, which participated in the 2003 settlement, representing the 50 percent of juveniles in long-term institutions with disabilities.
South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice
4900 Broad River Road
Columbia SC, 29212-3552
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The South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice does not discriminate in any programs or activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability or age. THE FOLLOWING OFFICES HAVE BEEN DESIGNATED TO HANDLE INQUIRIES REGARDING THE NONDISCRIMINATON POLICIES: Title IX -- Inspector General's Office -- 803-896-9595 Title II & 504 -- Special Education Office -- 803-896-8484.