A prosecutor who sent some of those children to prison is now in charge of turning around South Carolina’s chronically dangerous juvenile prisons.

Eden Hendrick, Director of Juvenile Justice, took over the troubled agency after two of her predecessors resigned following state audits that revealed major flaws ranging from a “useless and ineffective” in-house police force to an inability to keep children safe.

Holding children in solitary confinement in small concrete cells for months on end and scores of violent attacks by peers and guards are among the horrors detailed in testimony to lawmakers and investigators. The US Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division discovered that employees had hogtied, choked, slapped, and even bitten children in their care.

Hendrick was confirmed in May, just as the agency agreed to major changes at the main juvenile prison. Installing a modern surveillance system, revising use of force rules, reducing solitary confinement, and ensuring children get physical and recreational activity are all solutions.

Hendrick, who took over as interim director in September, is requesting more time in order to change both the prisons and the culture of an agency whose employees frequently feel forgotten and underappreciated.

Reform advocates want to give Hendrick a chance, but in the meantime, they have sued the state over the scope of the settlement, demanding a total overhaul of four other facilities.

Hendrix said the surveillance system upgrade lawmakers funded two years ago is nearly complete and will ensure there are no blind spots where juveniles and staff know an assault will not be recorded.

This month, Hendrick also received $20 million for one of her top priorities: the construction of a separate 20-bed treatment facility for juveniles with serious mental illness. In regular prisons, such inmates receive inadequate care, causing time-consuming and dangerous disruptions for staff and other juveniles.

Elsewhere, she’s making do with what she can, such as installing microwaves so that employees can eat hot lunches while keeping an eye on their charges, and she’s looking forward to being able to offer the salaries required to hire more people.

South Carolina’s juvenile prisons bear the scars of a decade of federal oversight that began around 20 years ago. Judges were astounded that children were being treated as if they were hardened criminals who couldn’t be reformed even if they were given counseling, drug treatment, education, and job opportunities.

Sylvia Murray was fired in 2017 after failing to control gang-related riots, and Freddie Pough was fired last year after lawmakers became enraged over an employee walkout.

More money does not always imply better results. According to the Justice Policy Institute, which aims to make incarceration of children a last resort, Texas has spent 31% more on juvenile justice and South Carolina has spent 27% more over the last decade.

However, spending can help: According to the group’s Sticker Shock report, Georgia has spent 24% more on community programs rather than youth prisons, and has seen a 20% drop in the number of juveniles in jail.

According to advocates, the abuse and neglect disproportionately affect Black children, who make up the majority of the South Carolina agency’s charges.

According to one lawyer in the ACLU lawsuit, current conditions are “eerily reminiscent” of what her clients on death row face, as well as what children experienced in the 1990s. The suit describes fights between entire wings of children, as well as juveniles who are afraid of nighttime attacks if they take sleeping pills.

According to one mother, her 14-year-old son was attacked dozens of times by other children and guards during his years in custody and was placed in solitary confinement for his own protection, where he struggled to get an education using occasional worksheets.

According to Hendrick, a 2019 change raising the minimum age for teenagers to be tried as adults from 17 to 18 pushed more children into the juvenile system, and court closures during the COVID-19 pandemic kept them there.

Legislation to reduce the number of juveniles incarcerated, establish diversion programs and a children’s Bill of Rights, limit probation terms, and prohibit commitments for status offenses died this spring after passing a Senate committee.

Despite the setbacks, Alexsandra Chauhan, a public defender who shared courtrooms with Hendrick, credits her with putting fewer children in isolation and more in therapy, as well as the security camera upgrade.