Gov. Nikki Haley criticized Tuesday the chairman of a S.C. House panel investigating problems at the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice, saying he bullied and intimidated employees during hearings.
“The idea that you could bully people who are serving, and who are trying to do their job and do the right thing, and intimidate them is just right out childish, and it’s rude,” Haley said of state Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Richland. “It’s just unbecoming of a legislator. It’s everything we say we don’t want in an elected official.
“It’s another example of an elected official gone rogue that thinks he’s all powerful, and it’s a shame.”
Finlay heads a panel examining complaints about inmate violence and employee shortages at Juvenile Justice. During a hearing last week, he said most DJJ employees wish to remain anonymous, fearing retaliation from agency leaders.
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During the testimony of a corrections officer who detailed riots at Columbia’s Broad River Road complex, Finlay — looking at DJJ administrators — asked the officer to tell him if she had any problems with her upcoming retirement.
Finlay said Tuesday it was sad the governor choose to focus on attacking him instead of fixing the agency that reports to her.
“I’m sorry she feels that way, but I think we’re dealing with very difficult issues that are very emotional,” Finlay said. “We’re getting to the root of some problems, and that’s always unpleasant.
“When you get to a point where you realize that the Department of Juvenile Justice hasn’t had a police chief in 2 1/2 years, what’s a response that’s appropriate?” Finlay asked, rhetorically. “We just had a riot at that agency. Fourteen cars were damaged and seven people, as I understand it, were put on workers’ comp. Could have that been changed?”
Finlay said he will hold more hearings. However, a hearing of Finlay’s committee, scheduled for Wednesday, has been postponed until next month.
Still, more inquiries are coming for Juvenile Justice. The state Inspector General’s office said it will investigate the agency after receiving a letter from Finlay’s panel. Also, the House Legislative Oversight Committee Tuesday asked the Legislative Audit Council to review Juvenile Justice’s spending.
Last week, DJJ officials testified their agency has suffered from high turnover and difficulty in recruiting officers. The agency also carried over more than $3 million in unspent money into this year’s budget from last year.
Haley said she welcomes the scrutiny of lawmakers, but they must respect agency employees. “These public servants don’t come and work for the money. They come because they’re serving our state. Have a level of respect for the fact that they are coming to answer all the questions that you have.”
The governor visited the Broad River Road complex last week after getting together other cabinet agency heads to discuss how to solve Juvenile Justice’s problems. She said the agency fired an unspecified number of officers who were “not doing their job.”
Agency leaders, who said they had about 30 officer vacancies, are adopting new policies and adding new security measures, including unbreakable glass windows.
Haley echoed Juvenile Justice leaders in blaming recent riots at the Columbia facility on inmates with more violent backgrounds.
“These kids are a new level of bad,” she said.
Andrew Shain: @AndyShain