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SC DJJ security staff, teachers walk off the job

Updated: Jun. 4, 2021 at 6:30 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Security staff and teachers at the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice walked out Friday morning.

Staffers tell WIS there was no pre-planning of the walk-out. It appears a dispute over timesheets was the breaking point over simmering issues of low pay, long hours, and dangerous conditions.

Roughly 20 to 30 employees are holding signs in the parking lot.

Teacher Melynda Munoz said safety is a regular concern.

“I didn’t start worrying until just recently, because it was getting to the point there were assaults every day,” she said.

Welding teacher Jeremy Lee echoed her concerns.

“Staff has been telling this group of people for years, hey this is getting worse, this is getting worse, this is getting worse. Emails have been sent. Nothing gets any better,” he said.

The department spokesperson said the facility remained staffed with Public Safety Officers while the Juvenile Corrections Officers were on strike. The PSO’s are traditionally used for transport and perimeter security services.

Sen. Katrina Shealy (R-Lexington) has been an outspoken critic of the DJJ and its leadership and challenged Director Freddie Pough to do better.

“He doesn’t need to have to call them in there one by one and talk them to. Man up, get out here and talk to your employees,” he said.

The governor’s office said he is aware of the situation and has directed law enforcement agencies in the area to be on standby to supplement DJJ staff if necessary.

Pough ultimately came out and spoke with the workers for close to two hours. He told journalists he will be continuing to speak with staff and is considering consolidating dorms to ease pressure on staff.

When asked how the department got to this point, he responded: “I inherited an agency that was embattled and I knew that coming in. I knew it was difficult coming in. I was hopeful that with time I could partner with the right people across the country and bring in some great help to get things where they need to be,” he said.

Pough took over as director of the department in 2017.

In a separate press conference McMaster stated:

“I need to say this, there’s no excuse for anyone to walk off of a job, particularly this kind of job where leaving their post puts young people in danger but also puts enormous stress on officers still in the facility,” he said.

The spokesperson reiterated the governor has directed the Department of Administration’s State Human Resources Division to review practices at the agency to address the concerns raised by DJJ staff Friday.

House Minority Leader, Todd Rutherford issued the following statement on Friday:

“I stand in solidarity with the staff at the DJJ facility in Columbia as they walk out in protest today. For too long, the Republican leadership in our state has neglected the needs of this department and now we are bearing the fruit of their inaction. Members of the legislature would rather bang their fist on a table than take the necessary action to solve the problems facing the DJJ. This department, like so many others in our state, had been underfunded for years. The conditions in that facility are unacceptable and a stain on our state. It is past time that major changes take place within the DJJ. At the top of that list should be better pay and improved conditions for staff and teachers and increased funding across the board.”

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