COLUMBIA, S.C. — Staffing at South Carolina's Department of Juvenile Justice continues to be a challenge, according to its Director Eden Hendrick.
Hendrick told Senators Wednesday the Broad River Road campus has a 52 percent vacancy rate with 176 officer positions vacant agency wide.
Hendrick explained while correctional officers, DJJ is down 37 case workers and four psychologists.
"We’re only down four psychologists but those psychologists– that's huge with the number of evaluations we do and it is hard to recruit people to state government right now," said Hendrick.
Recruitment is improving, Hendrick said. from Jan. 2022 through September 2022 a total of 173 Juvenile Detention officers were hired-- a 78 percent increase from the same time period last year.
"It's great to get new people in the front door, but you have to keep them," said Hendrick.
Hendricks’ presentation came nearly a year after she took over for former director Freddie Pough who resigned following protests from some employees who said they had to work 24 hour shifts and feared for their safety.
Among the changes Hendrick wants to make, is installing doors on four units that are known as open bay areas in order to increase safety for youth and staff.
"They’re single occupancy but they're half walls, they don’t have doors and so you’re not able to confine or secure a young person behind the door which you would find at the other facilities around the state," said Deputy Director of Division of Security and Operations Mack Mcghee.
Hendricks is also looking at reducing contraband being brought in. Plans for a new parking lot for employees is in the works. Employees would then be shuttled to campus and given a security check.
"We cannot continue to have personal vehicles, for numerous reasons, come on campus," said Hendrick.
DJJ's inspector general John Ewing explained a recent agreement with SLED to refer crimes that are reported in the facility, something Sen. Dick Harpootlian said was not done under Pough's leadership.
"The agreement has specific crimes like sexual assault that we must notify sled about," said Ewing. "We also have certain crimes that we notify sled about and we have a discussion whether DJJ handles or SLED handles it."
In August, lawmakers approved $20 million in bond for a new mental health facility for DJJ youth.