CMS school for teen inmates impacts life beyond the classroom

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Some of the Charlotte area's most troubled teens are getting a head start on a better life from behind bars.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is running "Turning Point Academy," a school for teenage inmates at Mecklenburg County's Jail-North. The program is the only one of its kind in the state.

"A lot of these kids, they'll come in beat up, they're hurt, they're angry, they're upset," said Dr. Keith Cradle, the Adolescent Program manager. "When you look them in the eye, sometimes there's nothing there."

The program offers a GED program, life skills learning and career training.

Neal Johnson, the dean of Turning Point Academy, told Channel 9, "We're taking potential high school dropouts and turning them into high school graduates."

Last year, Kaila Robinson, 17, was one of the students.

"I started running away, just hanging out with a lot of bad people," Robinson said.

The last time she was in jail, she made the most of her sentence.

"There were days I wanted to give up. I wanted to stay in my room and do nothing. The guards, they would come in my cell, 'Robinson get up, time for class,'" she said.

"A lot of these kids, they'll come in beat up. They're hurt. They're angry. They're upset. When you look them in the eye, sometimes there's nothing there," said Dr. Keith Cradle, adolescent program manager. "Once they start being a full participant in this programming, you start seeing that light turn back on."

The school has been around since the 1980s, but Cradle said the focus on teen education and rehabilitation has expanded over the years.

In 2008, the jail housed between 125 to 130 young inmates each day. The daily average now is 45 to 50.

In 2015, there were 1,724 Incident reports inside Mecklenburg County Jail-North including issues like fights or refusal to participate.

In 2017, there were 1,307 reports.

Cradle attributes the change to teens staying focused on bettering themselves and increased staff training to handle them.

"You're already seeing the types of crime they're committing. If we don't invest in them, then they'll continue to do those things if they have no other opportunity," he said.

Every year, a dozen or so of their students go on to graduate high school.

Others get their GED like Robinson.

It was a major moment for her and for her grandmother.

"It brought tears to my eyes, to brought tears," Joyce Phillips said, "Because that's an accomplishment, I think she's on the right track now."

Robinson is still on probation, but has a job, and hasn't been back in jail.

Youthful offenders can continue their CMS education in jail if they're still enrolled in a CMS school. If not, they can get their GED.

The total cost for the youthful offender programs is $590,618 a year. That doesn't include staff costs.

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