South Carolina

DJJ sued for sending juveniles to Richland County’s adult jail

A 16-year-old son hugs his mother in Richland County Family Court before he is taken back into the custody of the state Department of Juvenile Justice.
A 16-year-old son hugs his mother in Richland County Family Court before he is taken back into the custody of the state Department of Juvenile Justice. File photograph

Richland County’s public defender’s office has sued the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice, alleging that the transfer of juveniles to the county’s adult jail is a violation of state law.

The suit comes after youths charged as adults following recent riots at the DJJ facility in Columbia have been moved to Richland County’s Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center.

The public defenders’ office singled out one juvenile detainee in filing its suit. A youth identified only as “Steven H.” was transferred from DJJ to Alvin S. Glenn in March, the suit says.

Once juveniles are in DJJ’s custody, they are supposed to remain in juvenile facilities, even if they are subsequently charged as adults, the suit asserts.

In all, 11 juveniles have been transferred to Alvin S. Glenn recently, DJJ interim Chief of Staff Darrell Scott said Tuesday. Ten are still in custody there, he said.

“Juveniles were charged as adults for criminal acts related to recent incidents at DJJ’s Broad River Road Complex,” Scott said in a reference to two major disturbances at the complex – in December and in February.

Scott said he could not comment on whether DJJ has a secure place on its Broad River Road campus to have confined those juveniles charged as adults “because of pending litigation.”

Scott also declined comment on the lawsuit’s allegations, but added, “We will obviously be responding to the lawsuit via the proper legal mechanisms.”

Richland County spokeswoman Beverly Harris acknowledged that the detention center “has accepted juveniles.”

Efforts this week to reach the jail’s director, Ronaldo Myers, for comment were unsuccessful.

Scott declined to say if DJJ had in the past transferred youths who had been charged as adults to Alvin S. Glenn, saying that was part of the pending litigation.

In the past year, three major youth inmate riots have rocked DJJ’s Broad River Road complex. Officials say that they are taking steps to make the facility more secure, including hiring a gang specialist and a permanent police chief.

At least one inmate escaped from DJJ during the Feb. 26 riot. Five juvenile inmates were arrested afterward, charged as adults and taken to Alvin S. Glenn, DJJ officials said March 10. The inmates’ charges range from attempted murder and sexual assault to burglary, arson and malicious damage to property, according to 16 arrest warrants. Two inmates are accused of breaking into a facility for girls and sexually assaulting female victims.

Columbia attorney Jay Elliot, who said he represents one of the juveniles transferred to the Alvin S. Glenn center, said the county jail does have an adequate confinement facility for youths 16 and under that segregates them from adult inmates.

But once a youth turns 17, he can be put in the same areas as adult offenders, Elliott said.

That’s what happened with his client, who at having just turned 17 is now with adult offenders. Elliot said.

“There are all kinds of problems with that,” including the possibility of youths being assaulted and sexually accosted by adult inmates, Elliott said.

“They are vulnerable because they are younger, as much as we want to think they are some kind of adult hoodlums,” Elliott said.

Elliott said he has not seen the public defender’s office’s lawsuit but had heard of it and approved of the idea behind it.

The lawsuit, filed by chief Richland County Public Defender Fielding Pringle, said state law requires juveniles committed to DJJ “shall be under the exclusive care, custody and control of the department.”

State law also requires all juveniles to have an individualized treatment plan in place, and while Steven H. has been in an adult jail, he “does not have access to programs at this time to address his educational goals and does not have access to a social worker or counselor to make progress toward his treatment goals,” the lawsuit said.

Since Steven H. is unable to receive juvenile related services, he is “currently suffering irreparable harm as he is unable to make progress towards his treatment goals ...,” the lawsuit said.

Pringle declined comment.

In South Carolina, juveniles of all ages can be charged as adults, exposing them to much stiffer penalties, depending on the severity of the crime.