Columbia, SC (WLTX) – A University of South Carolina Law School professor is leading the charge in reforming the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).
Josh Gupta-Kagan, along with lawyers from Nelson Mullins and Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc, developed a 55-page report on juvenile justice reform.
"I represent kids,” says Gupta-Kagan. “I represent kids who have made mistakes. I want to give those kids the chance to be the productive citizens we all want them to be and I want our system to give them that opportunity rather than be an obstacle."
The report, titled “Effective Solutions to South Carolina’s Juvenile Justice Crisis: Safety Rehabilitation and Fiscal Responsibility,” was created in response to the February 2016 riot at one of DJJ’s facilities.
"What we wanted to do was get past this cycle of 'oh there's a security problem, so let's slap some more barbed wire there' and talk about the real issues that are holding the agency back."
Gupta-Kagan believes having large detention facilities, incarcerating children for misdemeanor crimes, and not having specific mental health programs hurts the agency.
He hopes that lawmakers and the DJJ can learn from other states like Missouri, Texas and Georgia.
"Georgia, which I just mentioned enacted a law that made it incredibly hard to lock kids up for committing misdemeanors,” says Gupta-Kagan. “This is really positive reform because there's a lot of other research showing that locking kids up, especially for petty crimes, can lead to more problems down the road. It's a real expensive way to increase the crime rate."
The DJJ welcomes the research and said in a statement:
DJJ reviewed the report and is encouraged the report echoes several enhancements to the Juvenile Justice System in South Carolina that DJJ already identified. We look forward to continuing the work with all our partners, and sister agencies to best serve the needs of South Carolina, the Juveniles we are trusted to rehabilitate and the communities we help protect.
DJJ appreciates the time, effort and recommendations in the report.
We all want the same thing, for South Carolina to be a shining example of Juvenile Justice and what is best for our Juveniles and the Communities they are from.
"We can do it and we can do it here,” says Gupta-Kagan. “It can have a real positive effect. "
Gupta-Kagan says behavioral and mental health programs for juveniles can be more effective and less expensive in the long run.