South Carolina: Lawsuit Filed Protesting Living Conditions Facing Children In Juvenile Detention Facilities

Children held in DJJ facilities are routinely subjected to violence, months-long isolation in solitary confinement, and a lack o
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SOUTH CAROLINA – A new NAACP lawsuit filed Wednesday in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina alleges horrific living conditions for the more than 250 children detained by the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice, the agency tasked by law with providing South Carolina's detained children with care and rehabilitation rather than punishment.

Children held in DJJ facilities are routinely subjected to violence, months-long isolation in solitary confinement, and a lack of meaningful educational or mental health services, according to the lawsuit, which was brought on behalf of the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, Disability Rights South Carolina, and Justice 360.

According to the lawsuit, there is sewage water in the cells, feces on the walls, and cockroaches in the food of the facilities. The lawsuit alleges that youth-on-youth violence is rampant, with staff often turning a blind eye or even instigating assaults on children.

The lawsuit further alleges that DJJ has resorted to 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement as a default management tool, to house sick kids, "protect" children from violence, or address even the most minor of infractions.

"South Carolina exposes the children in its juvenile justice system — most of whom are Black — to barbaric conditions," said Brenda Murphy, President of the NAACP South Carolina State Conference of Branches. "Children in custody suffer from constant violence, are isolated for weeks and months, and are denied the basic rehabilitative services they need and are entitled to. Our most vulnerable children must receive support, not punishment." 

Despite claims that it operates its own accredited school district, helps youth pursue workforce development opportunities, and provides rehabilitative services, most children receive no educational services, according to the lawsuit. The lack of educational resources at DJJ facilities is especially damaging for the children who suffer from learning impairments or physical disabilities, as no special education services are provided, the lawsuit says. One child, who struggles with verbal communication, reported receiving only a single day of education over a period of nine months.

The DJJ has a well-documented track record — dating back to the 1960s — of violating the constitutional and statutory rights of the children in its care. Even with decades' worth of findings and interventions, DJJ has failed to make substantial progress in implementing lasting solutions, the lawsuit says.

"By law, South Carolina's Department of Juvenile Justice is required to provide rehabilitative services to the children in its custody," said Janette Wallace, General Counsel of the NAACP. "Instead, DJJ further traumatizes these children by detaining them in unreasonably dangerous facilities with highly punitive conditions. We must protect the children in DJJ from these harms."

The lawsuit, filed jointly by the NAACP, the ACLU of South Carolina, and the law firms Wyche and Jenner & Block, asks the court to declare that the department is violating the constitutional rights of South Carolina children and seeks judicial intervention to facilitate immediate remedies such as clean water, dry beds, healthy food, safety from violence, freedom from unconstitutional uses of solitary confinement, meaningful access to education and mental health resources, and accommodations for children with disabilities.

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