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Department of Justice - Investigation of South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice's Broad River Road Complex, 2020

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U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
Assistant Allorney General
950 Pennsylvania Ave, NW - RFK
Washington, DC 20530

FEB Ot2020
The Honorable Henry McMaster
Governor of South Carolina
State House
1100 Gervais Street
Columbia, South Carolina 29201

Re: Notice Regarding Investigation of South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice

Dear Governor McMaster:
We write to report the results of the investigation into the conditions of confinement in
the Broad River Road Complex (BRRC), South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice's (DJJ)
long-term, juvenile commitment facility, conducted under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized
Persons Act (CRIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act
of 1994, 34 U.S.C. § 12601, and Title II ofthe Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §
12132. Consistent with the statutory requirements of CRIPA, we provide this Notice of the
alleged conditions that we have reasonable cause to believe violate the Constitution. We also
notify you ofthe supporting facts giving rise to, and the minimum remedial measures that we
believe may remedy, those alleged conditions.
After carefully reviewing the evidence, we conclude that there is reasonable cause to·
believe that conditions at BRRC violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution and that
these violations are pursuant to a pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of rights
protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Specifically, we have reasonable cause to believe that
South Carolina fails to keep youth reasonably safe from youth-on-youth violence at the BRRC.
Additionally, DJJ seriously harms youth by using punitive, prolonged isolation. The violations
are exacerbated by the failure to train staff, implement effective behavior management tools, and
establish key safety features in the physical plant at BRRC. 1

I

The Department opened its investigation to examine four issues: (1) whether DJJ fails to protect youth from youth­
on-youth violence; (2) whether DJJ subjects youth to prolonged isolation; (3) whether DJJ fails to protect youth
from physical abuse by staff; and (4) whether DJJ violates the Americans with Disabilities Act in its use ofpre­
sentencing residential evaluation centers. This Notice Letter applies to the first two
issues. The Department's investigation into the third issue is ongoing. Our investigation of the fourth issue did not
reveal a reasonable basis to believe that DJJ's use of secure evaluation centers violates the ADA.

2

We are obligated to advise you that 49 days after issuance of this Notice, the Attorney
General may initiate a lawsuit under CRIPA to correct the alleged conditions we have identified
if South Carolina officials have not satisfactorily addressed them. 42 U.S.C. § l 997b(a)(l). The
Attorney General may also move to intervene in related private suits 15 days after issuance of
this letter. 42 U.S.C. § 1997c(b)(l)(A).
We hope, however, to resolve this matter through a more cooperative approach and look
forward to working with you to address the alleged violations of law we hav identified. The
lawyers assigned to this investigation will be contacting the DJJ to discuss this matter in further
detail. Please also note that this Notice is a public document. It will he posted on the Civil Rights
Division's website.

If you have any questions, please call Steven H. Rosenbaum, Chief of the Civil Rights
Division's Special Litigation Section, ·at (202) 616-3244.

Sincerely,

~}~
Eric S. Dreiband
Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division
cc: Alan Wilson
Attorney General
South Carolina
Clarence Davis
Counsel for the Department of Juvenile Justice
Griffin Davis Law Firm
Freddie Pough
Executive Director
Department of Juvenile Justice
Melody Lawson
Interim Facility Administrator
Broad River Road Complex
Department of Juvenile Justice
James Leventis
Deputy Civil Chief.
District of South Carolina

2

INVESTIGATION OF SOUTH CAROLINA
DEPARTMENT OF JUVENILE JUSTICE’S
BROAD RIVER ROAD COMPLEX

United States Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
United States Attorney’s Office
District of South Carolina
February 5, 2020

TABLE OF CONTENTS
I.
II.
III.

Summary .................................................................................................................... 1
Investigation ............................................................................................................... 1
Background ................................................................................................................ 2
A. The BRRC Campus ................................................................................................. 2
B. The BRRC Population............................................................................................. 3
C. BRRC Staffing......................................................................................................... 3
D. Notice of Conditions at BRRC and DJJ’s Inadequate Response............................. 4
IV. Conditions Identified .................................................................................................. 4
A. DJJ Fails to Keep Youth Reasonably Safe from Harm at Broad River Road ........ 5
1. DJJ Fails to Keep Youth Reasonably Safe from Harm .................................... 5
2. Inadequate DJJ Facilities, Policies, and Practices Contribute to Harm to
Youth and Place Youth at Risk of Harm ...........................................................7
(a) Inadequate Physical Plant Security Measures..................................7
(b) Failure to Train.................................................................................8
B. DJJ’s Use of Isolation Violates the Constitutional Rights of Youth at Broad
River Road...............................................................................................................9
1. DJJ Isolates Youth for Punishment ..................................................................9
2. DJJ Isolates Youth for Unreasonably Prolonged Stays in Inadequate
Conditions..........................................................................................................10
3. Youth Resort to Self-Harm and Suffer Worsening Mental Health ...................12
V. Remedial Measures.....................................................................................................13
VI. Conclusion ..................................................................................................................14

I.

Summary

The United States Department of Justice provides notice, pursuant to the Civil Rights of
Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997b, that there is reasonable cause to
believe, based on the totality of the conditions, practices, and incidents discovered there, that (1)
the conditions at the Broad River Road Complex (BRRC), South Carolina’s long-term, juvenile
commitment facility, violate the Fourteenth Amendment, and (2) the violations are pursuant to a
pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of rights protected by the Fourteenth
Amendment. Specifically, the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) fails to keep
youth reasonably safe from harm at the BRRC. DJJ, through its failure to train its staff,
implement effective behavior management tools, and establish key safety features in its physical
plant, seriously harms youth or places them at substantial risk of serious harm from other youth.
Additionally, DJJ seriously harms youth by using isolation for punitive rather than legitimate
purposes and by placing youth in isolation for lengthy periods. The Department continues to
investigate allegations that youth are also at substantial risk of serious harm as a result of
excessive force from staff.
We also conducted an investigation, pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act
(ADA) of DJJ’s decisions where it has the sole authority to determine whether to place youth
with disabilities in its pre-sentencing residential evaluation centers, and whether DJJ reasonably
modifies its pre-sentencing evaluation system to avoid disability-based discrimination. Our
investigation of that claim did not reveal a reasonable basis to believe that DJJ’s use of secure
evaluation centers violates the ADA.
The Department does not serve as a tribunal authorized to make factual findings and legal
conclusions binding on, or admissible in, any court, and nothing in this Notice should be
construed as such. Accordingly, this Notice is not intended to be admissible evidence and does
not create any legal rights or obligations.
II.

Investigation

On September 27, 2017, the Department of Justice notified South Carolina of its intent to
conduct this investigation. The Department conducted three onsite tours of BRRC and visited
DJJ offices around the State. Department attorneys and expert consultants conducted interviews
of dozens of staff members including both line staff and DJJ management. Department attorneys
and consultants also interviewed youth confined or previously confined at BRRC, and their
family members. Further, the Department inspected BRRC to learn about the physical plant. In
addition to inspections and interviews, the Department reviewed thousands of documents.
Finally, the Department reviewed video, to the extent it was available, related to allegations of
abuse.
We appreciate DJJ’s cooperation during the course of the investigation. Staff facilitated
the visits and made themselves available for interviews. The agency also provided relevant
1

documents and materials before, during and after our visits. Recently, DJJ provided information
about initial steps it is taking to respond to concerns that the Department raised on site. We look
forward to working with DJJ to remedy the violations of law described below.
III.

Background

DJJ is responsible for the “care and rehabilitation of children who are incarcerated” in the
state. Indeed, the DJJ’s stated mission is therapeutic: to “protect the public and reclaim juveniles
through prevention, community programs, education, and rehabilitation services in the least
restrictive environment.” DJJ’s rehabilitative services division operates five residential
programs including the BRRC, a pretrial detention center, and three pre-disposition secure
evaluation centers.
A. The BRRC Campus
The BRRC is located on a 540-acre sprawling campus in Columbia, South Carolina. On
the grounds, there are three male dorms, an honor dorm, an isolation unit, an intensive treatment
unit, and one female dorm. The three primary male dorms are identical: Each dorm has a central
outdoor courtyard with three pods, or living areas, which extend from the courtyard. Each pod is
a large room with bolted down chairs and tables in the middle, and 10 bed areas around the
perimeter -- cinderblock cubicles that contain a bed and a nightstand. The female dorm is built
to resemble a home with a kitchen, a living room with couches, and bedrooms shared by two
female youths.
There are two housing units for youth who display behavior and safety issues: the crisis
management unit (CMU or isolation) and the intensive treatment unit (ITU). The crisis
management unit is BRRC’s isolation unit, and it is intended to be used for youth who need to be
temporarily removed from the general population if they violated the most serious level of
behavioral standards and they are an immediate safety threat to either other young people, staff,
or themselves, or are in danger of being harmed by staff, or young people. The CMU consists of
three wings of concrete and steel cells. Each cell is 8 feet long by 8 feet wide and has no
furniture except a cement bed and a thin mattress. The cells are dark: The only light comes from
a solid metal door with a narrow slot at waist level and a small window that is painted over to
prevent interaction with staff and youth outside. While confined, youth are completely isolated
from the general population and confined to their cells for 23 hours a day. Youth in the CMU do
not attend school, or participate in recreation or other programs with youth in the general
population. Instead, youth receive educational worksheets to complete. Additionally, during the
one hour outside of the cell, each youth is permitted to go outside for recreation but remains
shackled in the small recreation area.
The ITU is a step-down unit for youth who are returning to the general population after
placement in isolation. The unit houses up to six young people for two weeks at a time. The
youth are housed in cells identical to those in the isolation unit, however, youth in the ITU are
not confined to their cells all day. Young people in the ITU receive four hours of education each
day with other ITU youth, and receive counseling, and mentoring services with other youth in
the ITU.
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B. The BRRC Population
Young people throughout the state who are 17 years of age or younger 1 and who are
adjudicated delinquent may be incarcerated at BRRC. Between July 2015 and December 2017,
the average age of youth at admission was 16 years old. The youngest child admitted during that
period was 13 years old. The average length of stay was seven months, and the longest length of
stay was two years and nine months. The average daily population of BRRC is slightly higher
than 100 youth.
A large number of youth are sentenced to BRRC for nonviolent offenses. From July 1,
2015 through December 31, 2017, twenty-eight percent of all commitments to BRRC resulted
from probation violations -- when a youth violates a condition of the terms of probation but is
not charged with a new offense -- or contempt of court. These offenses are the most frequent
reasons that youth were committed to BRRC.
BRRC’s population includes youth with serious mental illnesses. 2 According to DJJ’s
agreement with the Department of Mental Health, DJJ is supposed to identify youth with serious
mental illness and transfer these youth from BRRC to a psychiatric residential treatment facility.
However, these youth spend a significant portion of their sentence at BRRC. In 2017, for
instance, youth with serious mental illness whom DJJ eventually transferred to psychiatric
residential treatment facilities remained at BRRC for an average of four months before transfer.
Many youth with these conditions were never transferred to facilities designed to meet their
mental health needs. In fact, of the 117 young people with serious mental illness who entered
BRRC in 2017, around 75 of them were never transferred to a psychiatric residential treatment
facility.
C. BRRC Staffing
Security staffing at BRRC has decreased by 27 percent over the past two years, from 235
in September 2017, to 172 in May 2019. This decrease occurred despite the population at
South Carolina recently raised the age at which youth are considered to be a “child” or “juvenile”
subject to the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system. As of July 1, 2019, youth who are 17 years old
and younger are considered juveniles in South Carolina. See S.C. Code Ann. § 63-19-20(1) (effective
July 1, 2019). However, South Carolina exempts from the definition of “child” or “juvenile” any 17year-old who is charged with a Class A, B, C or D felony, or any felony punishable by imprisonment for
15 years or more. Id.
1

In an agreement between the South Carolina Department of Mental Health and DJJ, serious mental
illness is defined as having one of the following DSM-5 diagnoses: 1) Psychotic disorders; 2) Major
Depressive Disorder; 3) Bipolar Disorder; 4)Severe Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder; 5)
Personality Disorder; 6) Persistent Depressive Disorder; 7) Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; 8)
Generalized Anxiety Disorder; 9) Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; 10) Anorexia Nervosa; Bulimia
Nervosa; 11) Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder. Agreement Between the South Carolina DJJ and
the South Carolina Department of Mental Health for identification and transfer of DJJ Juveniles who have
Mental Illness, Dec. 23, 2014.

2

3

BRRC increasing slightly, from 119 to 127. 3 During this period, there were no changes to the
physical plant or program at BRRC that would justify this reduction in staffing.
D. Notice of Conditions at BRRC and DJJ’s Inadequate Response
In the 1990’s, a federal court issued an injunction requiring DJJ to implement minimally
acceptable standards to remedy conditions of confinement at DJJ facilities that violated
juveniles’ constitutional and statutory rights. See Bowers ex rel. Alexander S. v Boyd, 876 F.
Supp. 773 (D.S.C. 1995). DJJ developed and implemented a plan that resulted in the termination
of the case in 2003.
Concerns about the safety of juveniles and staff, and the failure of DJJ to protect youth
from harm, resurfaced in recent years after three large-scale incidents at BRRC resulted in youth
sexual assaults, escapes from BRRC, and extensive damage to the dorms. Multiple State reports
commissioned after the incidents put the State on notice of conditions at BRRC that endanger
youth. Nonetheless, as described in detail below, the data reveal that there is an ongoing pattern
of unconstitutional conditions at the facility.
IV.

Conditions Identified

The Department’s investigation has uncovered facts that provide reasonable cause to
conclude that conditions at BRRC regularly and routinely violate the Constitution. In particular,
the Department has reasonable cause to believe that DJJ, through its failure to train its staff,
implement effective behavior management tools, and establish key safety features in its physical
plant, seriously harms youth or places them at substantial risk of serious harm from other youth.
Additionally, DJJ seriously harms youth by using isolation for punitive purposes and by placing
youth in isolation for 23 hours a day in small, dark cells, without meaningful education or other
programming.
As detailed below, the numerous, specific, and repeated violations of the Fourteenth
Amendment at BRRC establish a pattern or practice of constitutional violations under CRIPA.
To establish a pattern or practice of violations, the United States must prove “more than the mere
occurrence of isolated or ‘accidental’ or sporadic discriminatory acts.” See Int’l Bhd. of
Teamsters v. United States, 431 U.S. 324, 336 (1977). It must “establish by a preponderance of
the evidence that [violating federal law] was . . . the regular rather than the unusual practice.” Id.
See also Equal Employment Opportunity Comm’n v. Am. Nat’l Bank, 652 F.2d 1176, 1188 (4th
Cir. 1981) (explaining that a “cumulation of evidence, including statistics, patterns, practices,
general policies, or specific instances of discrimination” can be used to prove a pattern or
practice).

In September 2017, there were 119 youth incarcerated at BRRC. South Carolina DJJ, SCDJJ Monthly
Dashboard September 2017,
https://www.scstatehouse.gov/CommitteeInfo/HouseLegislativeOversightCommittee/AgencyWebpages/
DJJ/Monthly%20Report%20-%20September%202017%20(pdf).pdf. As of June 24, 2019, there were 127
youth incarcerated.
3

4

A. DJJ Fails to Keep Youth Reasonably Safe from Harm at Broad River Road
We apply the United States Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause
standard in our analysis of conditions and use of isolation at BRCC. Under this standard,
juvenile justice officials must ensure that detained youth are housed in reasonably safe
conditions and protected from the aggression of others, whether “others” be juveniles or staff.
Alexander S., 876 F. Supp. at 797-98 (citing Brooks ex rel. Thomas S. v. Flaherty, 699 F. Supp.
1178, 1200 (W.D.N.C. 1988), aff’d, 902 F.2d 250 (4th Cir. 1990)). This is consistent with the
standard the Supreme Court has applied to other populations being confined for non-punitive
purposes. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535 (1979) (adult pretrial detainees); Youngberg v.
Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 314-15 (1982) (people who are involuntarily committed due to disability).
Bell requires courts to consider whether the “conditions amount to punishment of the detainee,”
and, if not, whether conditions are reasonably related to a legitimate government purpose and
excessive relative to that purpose. Bell, 441 U.S. at 538-39. Courts must judge the
“reasonableness” of the practice in question by looking at whether it departs from generally
accepted professional standards. Youngberg, 437 U.S. at 315-16.
Adjudicated youth, like those confined at BRRC, have a liberty interest in personal safety
and avoiding undue restraint. See Blackmon v. Sutton, 734 F.3d 1237, 1241 (10th Cir. 2013)
(applying the Bell standard to case of a juvenile detainee); A.J. v. Kierst, 56 F.3d 849, 854 (8th
Cir. 1995) (relying in part on the fact that the juvenile system “is rehabilitative, not penal in
nature” to apply to the Fourteenth Amendment to a pretrial juvenile facility); Gary H. v.
Hegstrom, 831 F.2d 1430, 1432 (9th Cir. 1987) (holding that Fourteenth Amendment applies to
conditions in juvenile justice facilities because they are not criminal or penal); Santana v.
Collazo, 793 F.2d 41, 43 (1st Cir. 1986) (Santana II) (“[J]uveniles who have not been convicted
of crimes have ‘a due process interest in freedom from unnecessary bodily restraint which
entitles them to closer scrutiny of their conditions of confinement than that accorded convicted
criminals.’”); Hewett ex rel. H.C. v. Jarrard, 786 F.2d 1080, 1085 (11th Cir. 1986) (applying the
Fourteenth Amendment in a juvenile justice facility); Alexander S., 876 F. Supp. at 797-98.
1. DJJ Fails to Keep Youth Reasonably Safe from Harm
The Department has reasonable cause to believe that, in the totality of the circumstances
described below, DJJ has engaged in a pattern or practice of failing to keep youth reasonably
safe from harm.
DJJ reported to the South Carolina legislature that, between July 2018 and May 2019,
there were 134 fights and 71 assaults that resulted in 99 injuries to youth in a facility with an
average daily population of just over 100. During this 11-month span, youth fights and assaults
occurred, on average, on two out of every three days. On average, a youth sustained an injury
every third day.
This data showing a pattern of frequent harm to youth is corroborated by our review of
DJJ’s documents. DJJs own incident reports, injury reports, videos, and data sets, demonstrate
5

that youth in DJJ custody are at substantial risk of physical harm. For example, several incident
reports written by staff in 2017 describe significant incidents such as youth being punched,
knocked to the ground and stomped, struck in the face, grabbed by the genitals, and having their
glasses broken in altercations with their peers. Similarly, we reviewed injury reports identifying
harms including loose teeth, a bite, and a broken nose. BRRC’s own reports regularly document
that youth are not reasonably safe from injury at the hands of their peers. 4
The frequency of assaults on youth is high compared to assaults at other juvenile justice
facilities. BRRC uses Performance-based Standards (PbS), a program designed to assist juvenile
justice facilities across the country to track key metrics and identify problem areas, as indicated
by red flags.” 5 Facilities participating in the program receive reports comparing their
performance on those metrics to the performance of their peers. Facilities receive a “red flag”
for indicators on which their performance is at least 25% worse than the national average. PbS
reports the State provided, including from the spring and fall of 2018, indicate that BRRC’s
performance was significantly worse than the national average for assaults on youth, injuries to
youth by youth, and percent of youth who reported fearing for their safety within the previous six
months. For example, BRRC received a red flag for number of injuries to youth by youth per
100 days of confinement. BRRC also received a red flag for the percentage of youth who were
forced to engage in sexual activity within six months of the report.
Based on this evidence of regular assaults, fights, and injuries at BRRC, we conclude that
youth at BRRC are not housed in reasonably safe conditions. See Alexander S., 876 F. Supp. at
797-98; cf. Youngberg, 457 U.S. at 315-16 (recognizing the rights to be held in safe conditions
and to be free from undue restraint).
One example of a youth whom DJJ failed to keep safe was A.B. During A.B.’s sentence
at BRRC, he was the victim of repeated unaddressed harassment and attacks by other youth and
staff. Throughout 2017, multiple incident reports and grievances indicate that A. B. did not feel
safe at BRRC.
In one incident from November 2017, video showed an officer failing to protect A.B.
from four attacks by groups of youth in his pod over three hours. The video shows groups of
youth drag A.B. into a bedroom cubicle to assault him, twice chase him to the exit door of the
pod and assault him and then finally assault him again in another bedroom cubicle. The officer
responsible for maintaining safety on the unit, who was within sight and sound of the incidents,
remained seated during two of the incidents. Despite being at close proximity to the incidents,
the officer did not attempt to restrain the attackers from assaulting A.B., he did not remove A.B.
Youth on youth harm in facilities often occurs when youth are idle. Filling youth schedules with
rehabilitative activities reduces the opportunities for conflict to arise between youth who are restless and
bored.

4

The facility generates and tracks its own PbS data. The facility then enters it into a database so the
information can be compared to data from other facilities participating in the program.

5

6

from the pod to protect him, and he did not call other officers to come to the pod to help assist in
subduing the attackers.
Shortly after this incident, A.B.’s grandmother sent an email to DJJ. She complained that
DJJ and its staff members had allowed A.B. to be “not only taunted, but beaten, hit, and have
food thrown at him.” She also said that when she visited him before the November incident, in
June 2017, he could barely chew because he had been hit in the jaw. DJJ’s response to A.B.’s
fear was to place him in isolation for weeks 6 and return him to the same unit with instruction to
stay near staff at all times. This response was insufficient to protect A.B. from harm and is an
example of DJJ’s inadequate response to juvenile assaults that contribute to a pattern of serious
harm to youth.
The types of harms A.B. experienced at the hands of his peers were consistent with a
number of reports by other youth and family members we interviewed and found credible.
2. Inadequate DJJ Facilities, Policies, and Practices Contribute to Harm to Youth and
Place Youth at Risk of Harm
The BRRC campus has significant blind spots and areas not covered by video
surveillance, and officers’ ability to overcome the challenges posed by the campus’ physical
layout are impeded by BRRC’s staffing configuration. In addition, BRRC fails to protect youth
from harm by failing to conduct effective training.
(a) Inadequate Physical Plant Security Measures
BRRC’s physical layout and inadequate safety features place youth at risk of harm from
assaults by other youth. As previously described, each of the primary housing pods for boys at
BRRC includes ten individual sleeping areas. One officer oversees ten youth in each male
living pod, and each living pod within a dorm is physically secluded from other pods and from
the control station. Officers in the male living pods must visually secure a large area, while
simultaneously controlling the behavior of ten youths. As described below, this facility design
and staffing leads to officers being unable to identify and intervene in youth-on-youth assaults.
BRRC staff do not have a line of sight to supervise youth in the two end pods in each
housing unit or in the shower area. We identified multiple instances where youth harmed other
youth in this supervision gap. For instance, an incident video showed several youth chasing
another youth into the sleeping area on the farthest end of the pod. Apparently, the officer
could not see that the youth were fighting because he did not intervene until all of the youth in
the pod crowded around the area. Another incident video showed two youth following another
youth into the shower area. The two youth assaulted the other youth in the shower area outside
the video coverage while the officer remained in the pod. The officer did not reach the shower
As discussed in Part IV.B., below, we concluded that DJJ’s use of isolation violates youths’
constitutional rights.

6

7

area to intervene until the youth’s towel was filled with blood. The lack of a line of sight to
supervise all youth, and the absence of an additional officer to assist in responding to incidents
places youth at risk of harm. These incidents demonstrate that the physical layout of the pods
makes it difficult for officers to respond promptly to an incident while supervising the pod. In
addition, physical obstacles to providing adequate safety and supervision are exacerbated by
BRRC’s 1:10 staffing configuration in the male pods. Officers are working alone and when
they need help, they have to summon colleagues to come from other pods to provide assistance.
An officer whom we interviewed was visibly shaking while she explained how difficult it is to
control ten youth without any other officers to provide support.
In addition, there are many locations on the campus that are not covered by video
surveillance. These include areas outside the gymnasium, the courtyards that connect each
housing pod, and the buses that transport the youth around campus. Dozens of use of force
reports, for example, indicate that the reviewing officials were not able to conduct a full review
of the incidents because video was unavailable. These reports confirm that BRRC leadership is
aware of the limitations imposed by its video system.
BRRC’s video retention practices are insufficient to ensure that, where an incident is
recorded, the footage can be reviewed and appropriate action taken to prevent future harm.
Investigation reports we reviewed often noted that video was not available due to the lapse in
time. Similarly, when we sought video for 43 incidents that occurred in 2017 based on
documents we received about those incidents, DJJ was only able to produce video of 12
incidents. According to DJJ practice, videos are only kept for two weeks, unless the incident is
sent to the inspector general’s office for an investigation. However, because of the short time
before the videos are destroyed and the slow investigation process, many investigations indicate
that the video was not available because of the time lapse. The failure to preserve video hampers
the ability of the investigators to substantiate the allegations, and many of the investigation
reports we reviewed deemed the allegation as unfounded because the investigator could not
review the video evidence.
(b) Failure to Train
BRRC fails to take reasonable steps to prevent harm to youth, including conducting
effective training. In order to prevent and respond to youth on youth harm, staff must be able to
implement behavior management techniques including de-escalation and, where de-escalation
fails, use approved restraint procedures. Use of force reports, which often described staff
responses to youth fights, typically did not describe de-escalation efforts by staff.
The 2017 General Assembly Legislative Audit Council report, which examined harm
caused by three large scale incidents in the facility, including through youth on youth assaults,
determined that DJJ staff were “unfamiliar with basic security procedures.” An audit by separate
corrections consultants also recommended that DJJ implement annual Back to Basics refresher
trainings for staff because interviews indicated that staff were uncertain about use of force and
restraints. Consistent with these reports, not all staff we interviewed were able to clearly
8

describe the approved restraint procedures. Furthermore, video and use of force reports
described restraints in which staff responded to youth on youth fights by using restraint
techniques that were inconsistent with DJJ policy and generally accepted practice in the field of
juvenile justice. For example, we reviewed a video in which an officer intervened in a fight
between two youth by restraining a youth using a chokehold—not an approved technique.
In sum, the information gathered in our investigation indicates that staff are not
effectively trained to manage youth behavior and prevent harm to youth.
B. DJJ’s Use of Isolation Violates the Constitutional Rights of Youth at Broad River Road
The Department has reasonable cause to believe that DJJ engages in a pattern or practice
of using isolation in the absence of a legitimate governmental objective in violation of the Due
Process rights of youth at BRRC.
Under the Due Process Clause, isolation of young people can be justified where the
placement is reasonably related to a “legitimate government objective”. Cf. Bell, 441 U.S. at
535-39 (applying the Fourteenth Amendment to adult pretrial detainees and holding that
restrictions on the liberty of an individual not convicted of a crime must be reasonably related to
so legitimate government objective); Santana I, 714 F.2d at 1180, 1181-82 (applying Bell to
young people incarcerated and placed in isolation). Restrictions that do not relate to a legitimate
goal amount to punishment and are impermissible. Bell, 441 U.S. at 534-39. For example,
isolation for minor misbehavior or for failing to follow facility rules did not offer a legitimate
government objective to isolate. See Williams ex rel. V.W. v. Conway, 236 F. Supp.3d 554, 567,
582, 590 (N.D.N.Y. 2017) (denying motion to dismiss where plaintiffs alleged that they were
isolated for minor misbehavior); Pena v. N.Y. Div. for Youth, 419 F. Supp. 203, 210 (S.D.N.Y
1976) (enjoining placement in isolation for punitive reasons).
Even if a facility isolates a youth for a legitimate reason, the conditions in which the
facility isolates the youth may be sufficiently excessive or harsh to overcome the legitimate
objective and amount to punishment. Cf. Bell, 441 U.S. at 539 n.20 (advising that even where
there are legitimate objectives offered, some conditions of confinement, for example “loading a
detainee with chains and shackles and throwing him in a dungeon” are so harsh that there could
no other purpose than to punish). For example, use of isolation to protect youth from harm and
long-term isolation may be unconstitutional if the period of isolation or the conditions of
isolation are excessive. R.G. v. Koller, 415 F. Supp. 2d 1129, 1148-49, 1154-55 (D. Haw. 2006)
(protection from harm); Santana I, 714 F.2d at 1181-82 (long-term isolation).
1.

DJJ Isolates Youth for Punishment

The Constitution forbids isolating youth solely for punishment. DJJ uses isolation to
punish youth. Though its policy expressly prohibits disciplinary isolation, our review of data and
documents revealed that DJJ isolates youth frequently as punishment for minor misbehaviors
when the youth was not a threat to health or safety.
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According to DJJ policy, when officers isolate youth for behavior offenses, they may
only isolate youth for Level 3 offenses such as fights with injuries and large group disturbances
that pose serious threats to safety. However, the reports we reviewed revealed that a large
number of youth were isolated for minor misbehaviors that posed no threat to safety and did not
rise to a level 3 offense, meaning youth were being isolated for conduct that does not create a
risk of harm to the youth or others. These offenses include behaviors such as showing
disrespect, not complying with officers’ directions, or using profanity towards officers. Some
youth were put in isolation for masturbating in their beds or exposing themselves to officers,
even though these incidents were non-violent and did not involve any physical contact or
altercation with other youth or staff. Some particularly egregious examples of isolation for nonviolent offenses included a youth who was placed in isolation for having playing cards, a youth
who was isolated for being unable to urinate to complete a drug test, and two youths who were
isolated for tattooing each other with ink pens. Similarly, a list of isolation placements for 2018
shows that a number of youth were in isolation for being “out of place,” the term DJJ uses when
a youth is not in his or her assigned housing or programming area.
These punitive placements go almost unaddressed by DJJ leadership. We reviewed
hundreds of requests from 2015-2017 to place youth in isolation beyond four hours that were not
reviewed for months after the request was made. Despite its stated policy objectives to protect
health and safety, DJJ instead uses isolation mainly as a tool to punish youth and to enforce
compliance with its rules.
Moreover, BRRC has consistently received red flags in its PbS reports for its use of
isolation. In each PbS report that we received from DJJ (October 2015 through October 2018),
BRRC received red flags for: 1) average duration of isolation/room confinement in hours; 2)
percent of isolation terminated in four hours or less; and 3) percent of isolation terminated in
eight hours or less.
2.

DJJ Isolates Youth for Unreasonably Prolonged Stays in Inadequate
Conditions

Youth at BRRC are isolated frequently and for significantly long stays. In 2017, DJJ
isolated 232 youth at least once. While the average length of stay for a single CMU placement
in 2017 was 3 days, DJJ isolated youth for 10 or more days 39 times in 2017. This included C.D.
who was isolated for 34 days for a “fight without injury” and E.F. who was isolated for 27 days
until he could be “staffed in ITU.” 7 The longest single stay in isolation in 2017 extended to 225
days.

We learned in our investigation that many youth cycle from CMU to ITU many times. On our visit to
the ITU all of the youth who were confined there had previously been through the program at least one
time and had returned, indicating that the interventions offered at the ITU the first time were not
successful.

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10

Many youth housed at BRRC during the two years covered by our document review
(2015-2017) were isolated repeatedly, and thus spent a significant portion of those two years
confined in isolation. While in isolation, these youth were segregated completely from other
youth, denied meaningful education services, and forced to spend 23 hours a day alone without
any contact with youth or staff. Below, is a chart of six youth who spent the most days isolated
between 2015 through 2017:
Youth Name

Number of
times isolated

G.H.

24

I.J.

20

K.L.

11

M.N.

22

O.P.

19

Q.R.

24

Time span
from first
isolation in
2015 through
last isolation
in 2017
9/14/152/24/17
7/26/153/15/17
9/17/154/16/17
9/10/154/10/17
9/15/1511/2/17
10/21/153/3/17

Total days
isolated

Percent of
time isolated

301 days

57%

276 days

47%

231 days

40%

206 days

36 %

170 days

22 %

141 days

28%

DJJ continues to use isolation frequently and for long periods. DJJ reported to the South
Carolina legislature that between July 1, 2018 and May 31, 2019, it used isolation 1044 times at
BRRC – an average of approximately 94 times each month. 8 From January 1 to June 7, 2019,
DJJ data indicated that there were 340 instances of youth isolation. One youth, B.B, had been in
isolation for a total of 49 days as of June 7, 2019 for “mental health observation” and “refusal to
exist on the unit.”
The failure of DJJ to establish alternatives to placement for youth who need protective
custody, who are suicidal, or who are self-harming also contributes to the unconstitutional use of
isolation. From 2015 through 2017, there were 26 instances of isolation used for protective
custody. Some youth were placed in isolation for protective custody many times. A.B., the
youth whose assaults we described on page 7, was placed in isolation for protective custody 4
times for a total of 38 days from March 2017 to November 2017. There were 46 instances of
youth placed in isolation under suicide watch (23 youth) or mental health observation (23 youth)

8

SCDJJ Monthly Dashboard May 2019.

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from 2015-2017. The longest CMU mental health observation placement in the data we
reviewed was 11 days.
Additionally, while DJJ appropriately requires staff to justify continued isolation beyond
four hours, DJJ improperly prolongs isolation in violation of the Constitution. Instead of
observing a youth’s behavior while the youth is in isolation and then deciding whether to extend
the placement, officers admitted that they complete a form seeking an extension at the same time
that the youth is sent to isolation. The forms we reviewed supported this assertion; the
justifications for the extension for isolation always referenced the behavior exhibited by the
youth that landed the youth in isolation, not current behavior that showed that the youth
remained a threat to safety four hours after the original incident.
In isolation, youth are alone in their 8 foot long by 8 foot wide cell for 23 hours a day.
Their cells are dark with no natural light—DJJ painted over the only windows in the cell to
impede the youth from interacting with other youth and staff outside. Everything in the room is
made of concrete and steel; steel doors provide entrance in and out of the cell and the door only
has a slot for the officer to slide a tray of food to the youth and to communicate with them.
There is a steel toilet and sink for plumbing and a bed frame made of poured concrete with a thin
mattress on top. 9 The youth also receive no meaningful educational services or recreation and
very little contact with staff members.
3.

Youth Resort to Self-Harm and Suffer Worsening Mental Health

We reviewed medical records of youth who, while in isolation, displayed deteriorating
mental health conditions attributable to the unreasonable length and conditions of confinement in
isolation. Several of these youth displayed suicidal ideations. At least three youths tried to hang
themselves while in isolation. The youth tied sheets around their necks. And even though the
officers are supposed to perform regular safety checks every fifteen minutes on youth in
isolation, one youth was able to keep the sheet tied around his neck for five minutes before the
officers found him. None of these youth were provided appropriate psychiatric treatment—each
youth was instead placed in a suicide resistant isolation cell where it is possible that the youth
suffered further psychological harm.
Several youth reported being anxious, depressed, and attempting self-harming behaviors.
We reviewed the medical records of S.T., a youth who was placed in avoidable and prolonged
isolation for 13 days under suicide watch. While in isolation, his condition worsened. The nurse
wrote that the youth appeared “sad, gave poor eye contact” and “reported suicidal ideations and
having a plan of self-harm.” Yet, DJJ did not provide this youth with any additional intervention
and did not provide psychiatric care. Instead, the youth was returned to the suicide watch cell
where he remained for six days until he signed a contract agreeing not to harm himself. Making

Youth in the suicide-resistant cells have even less furniture. These cells have no sink, bathroom, or bed.
The youth receive blankets and must sleep on the floor in a suicide smock.
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a suicidal youth remain in isolation for six days until he signed a document promising not to hurt
himself placed him at serious risk of harm.
We interviewed U.V., who told us that she cut herself while she was in isolation. She
told us that being in isolation made her depressed and led to her cutting behaviors. According to
her medical reports, she was admitted to the infirmary because she cut her arm after an officer
told her “she was not loved, and would not leave lock up for three weeks.” Instead of referring
her to a staff psychologist at DJJ, or transferring her to a psychiatric hospital, the medical staff
dressed the wound and sent her back to isolation for five days, where she remained at serious risk
of harm.
We also interviewed W.X., a youth who was sentenced to DJJ from April 2014 through
July 2017. He told us that he has AD/HD, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. While he was at
DJJ, he was isolated at least 19 times for 71 total days. 10 W.X. says that isolation affected him
mentally. During one three-week stay, he says that he “started going insane”: he could not stay
calm or stop panicking. During this period, the officers did not let him out for recreation at all.
When W.X. asked the officers to release him from his isolation cell due to his anxiety, they
refused.
During our interviews, the Facility Administrator acknowledged that the best response for
youth who attempt suicide or display suicidal ideations is to transfer these youth to a psychiatric
hospital where the youth can receive intensive mental health treatment. However, as mentioned
above, DJJ does not attempt to place suicidal youth outside of the facility because many
psychiatric hospitals will not accept youth who have a history of delinquent conduct.
In sum, DJJ’s use of isolation harms children and violates their constitutional rights to due
process.
V. REMEDIAL MEASURES
DJJ should implement the following remedial measures to correct the violations
identified in this report.
1. Improve the physical plant to ensure adequate surveillance and retain video that
will enable facility leadership to investigate allegations of abuse.
2. Conduct a staffing study to determine the appropriate staffing levels and staffing
patterns to adequately supervise youth in the male living units, and make changes
to staffing patterns as necessary.
3. Train staff on positive behavior management tools and de-escalation to reduce
youth on youth violence and the use of isolation as a response to youth behavior.
We requested and received records verifying this claim. However, because we only requested isolation
placements from January 2015 through December 2017, it is possible that he was isolated in 2014 as well.

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4. Eliminate the use of isolation for minor misbehavior, protective custody, and
mental health observation.
5. Replace long-term isolation with a short-term cool-down room in each housing
unit for youth who are a threat to safety. Develop policies to ensure that youth
who are placed in the cool-down room are returned to the general population as
soon as they are no longer a threat to safety.
6. Develop admissions screening protocols to identify youth who are vulnerable to
victimization by other youth in the facility. Create a specialized housing unit for
these youth with access to equal recreational and educational services as youth in
the general population.
7. Develop agreements with the Department of Mental Health to ensure the prompt
transfer of suicidal youth to appropriate placements for mental health treatment.
VI.

CONCLUSION

As stated above, we have reasonable cause to believe that the South Carolina Department
of Juvenile Justice violates the constitutional rights of youth in its care, resulting in serious harm
and placing them at substantial risk of serious harm. Specifically, we conclude that DJJ, through
its failure to train its staff, implement effective behavior management tools, and establish key
safety features in its physical plant, seriously harms youth or places them at substantial risk of
serious harm from other youth. Additionally, DJJ seriously harms youth by using isolation for
punitive rather than legitimate purposes.
We look forward to working cooperatively with South Carolina to remedy these
violations.

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