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Haley taps Winthrop grad to lead SC juvenile justice agency

Gov.-elect Nikki Haley has picked a Winthrop University graduate with Rock Hill ties to lead the state Department of Juvenile Justice.

Margaret Barber ran York County's DJJ branch from 1993 to 1999. Most recently, she served as chief of staff in the Columbia main office.

"We have run DJJ very much like a family," Barber said Thursday. "We're positive about what we've been doing, and I want to continue that."

Dealing with DJJ's financial problems will include moving more offenders into community-based programs and out of facilities surrounded by razor wire, she said.

Barber "is a strong lady that understands that success comes from thinking outside the box," Haley said.

Also Thursday, Haley announced Bill Byars as her choice to lead the state Corrections Department.

Byars, the current director of the Juvenile Justice Department, is credited with turning around the state's system of jailing and rehabilitating youthful offenders. The federal government took over operations in 1995 after a lawsuit exposed overcrowding and abuse.

Barber was named chief of staff at the agency in 2007.

Byars, a former Family Court judge, and Barber will face confirmation hearings after Haley takes office in January and the Legislature convenes. Haley already has announced nominations for commerce secretary and for the state's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

Byars would replace Corrections Director Jon Ozmint, who has led the agency since January 2003. A message left for him was not immediately returned.

Haley noted Byars turned the Department of Juvenile Justice into a model, reforming it from an agency that in 2003 was enmeshed in a 1995 federal lawsuit and regular part of news stories about abuse and neglect.

"He has made it one of the biggest success stories in the country," Haley said. "This is a man that is known as Mr. Fix-it. And we are sending Mr. Fix-it to the Department of Corrections."

Both agencies have had budget problems and have run deficits during the past few years. For instance, the Corrections Department is asking the state's financial oversight board to allow it to operate with a $7.5 million shortfall in the current fiscal year.

Byars said he hopes the state prisons agency will be merged with the state parole and probation agency.

"When you do that, you open up all kinds of vistas for things to do that can better protect the public in South Carolina by working on recidivism rates," Byars said.

The state prison system has one of the nation's lowest operating costs per inmate.

"I want us to be able to feed inmates for less, but I want less inmates in the process," Haley said. "That's what I think this team is going to be able to do is bring that number down."

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