Youth Offenders in Mecklenburg County Jail Get to See Daylight

Published: Jun. 17, 2019 at 8:20 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden has launched an initiative that will give youth offenders time outdoors.

McFadden says during the past 19 years offenders -16 and 17 years old - were not allowed outside to have some recreation.

Young offenders locked up at Detention Center North are now allowed to go outside three times a week for two hours to play football, corn-hole, soccer, badminton and volleyball. The jail’s program director, Dr. Keith Cradle, believes this launch is a step in the right direction.

“Studies definitely show the more kids engage in physical activity,” Mecklenburg County Sheriff Office Youth Program Director Dr. Keith Cradle said. “Also team-based sports, you are now building accountability and responsibility and so we want to build that into our youth.”

Cradle says the initiative was just launched and already he sees a change in some of the jail’s youngest residents.

“You see the beaming in their eyes,” Cradle said. “You see the excitement. They are asking in the morning - Hey - are we going out today, so it’s definitely an attitudinal change and from that you get behavioral change.”

The Sheriff’s Office expected there would be criticism about this move. Some have commented to the Sheriff’s office and called this outdoor recreation program for young offenders “Cupcake Camp”. The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) believes this outdoor recreation will have a return on investment.

“We are going to give them everything they need to be productive,” Cradle said. “To be rehabilitative, to be positive, to be encouraging - that is our job.”

WBTV talked to a 17-year-old inmate. He has been behind bars for the past three months. He has been locked up on gun charges. He now enjoys seeing daylight weekly. He used one word to describe his feelings when he wasn’t allowed to go outside.

“Trapped.” the 17 year old said.

In addition to going outside, McFadden is also changing the attire of the inmates. The residents will wear their green jumpsuits while outside and when they come inside they will trade their jumpsuits for Khaki pants and polo shirts. The Sheriff says a local vendor will provide sneakers for the teenagers to wear instead of the standard flip-flops.

“If they look better,” Cradle said. “They’ll feel better.”

The 17-year-old inmate says the uniforms make a difference. He says it makes him feel productive when he is wearing a uniform instead of a jail jumpsuit.

“I guess you can say it’s good if you feel like you are in school,” the 17-year-old said. “Some people say it looks like we going to church. I guess you don’t look like you are in jail.”

Another change is the 16 and 17-year-old inmates will see positive words as that go through one particular hallway. Cradle asked all jail employees to submit their favorite quote. Those quotes now make up a Youth Inspirational Quote Wall.

The hope is the young offenders will read the quotes and it will inspire and motivate them to do better and lead productive lives.

“Showing them something they can read everyday,” Cradle said. “To help turn that light on - we can’t give up on them now.”

Officials know words are powerful, but realize the quotes could be meaningless if the teenagers don’t know the story of the author of the quote.

“Sometimes more than the words is the person that’s speaking the words,” Cradle said. “So someone like Michael Jordan - they know who Michael Jordan is.”

Also the YMCA will be stepping in to help with the Sheriff’s initiatives. The YMCA hired an expert to help counsel the young offenders concerning development and life skills. The Sheriff says he is grateful for the partnership.

The Sheriff also says the State has reached out to him to see if there are best practices that the MCSO can offer other law enforcement agencies throughout the state.

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