Employee describes ‘chaos’ at juvenile detention facility in Cabarrus County

CABARRUS COUNTY, N.C. — Issues at the overcrowded and understaffed Cabarrus County Juvenile Detention and Youth Development Center could be reaching a breaking point.

“What could happen? What do you think the potential is? Especially with the staffing situation now,” Channel 9′s Hannah Goetz asked an employee.

“That between a student or staff member, seriously gets hurt and dies onsite, or somehow, some way, these kids take over the facility,” they said.

Community Crisis: Kids & Crime

A recording of a 911 call captured a fear that nearly became reality last week. Deputies and police were called to the facility for a riot when investigators said youth inmates assaulted a staff member and took over a pod.

“We just got another call. They’re saying there is a possible riot going on,” you can hear on a recording of radio traffic.

“The public needs to know what’s going on,” the staff member told Goetz.

They agreed to speak with Goetz about the alarming conditions inside the Cabarrus County Juvenile Detention and Youth Development Center. We aren’t revealing who they are in an effort to protect their identity.

“They’re not stealing candy from the candy store anymore,” the employee said.

“Murder, got kids stealing cars, shooting into occupied dwellings, robbing people, assaulting people,” they added.

By the numbers

The employee attributes part of the chaos inside the facility to just how many teens are there. Since 2021, the number of juveniles admitted into a detention facility across the state has jumped 21%. As of Jan. 26, the detention population in North Carolina was 346 -- that’s 18 more inmates than the state is equipped to handle.

“Right now, there’s probably six or seven kids sleeping on the floor, which is a security issue. Because you got kids coming off the street -- you don’t know these kids, these kids can easily take over a building,” the employee said. “And what are you going to do with them? You can’t put them in their room, because they don’t have a room.”

William Lassiter oversees the state juvenile justice system. He told Goetz that the closure of Mecklenburg County’s juvenile jail in 2022 has led to overcrowding in Cabarrus County.

“That overcrowding has also led to more of our staff leaving,” Lassiter said. “Because it feels overwhelming to work in a facility where you’ve got kids sleeping on the day room floor instead of in a room like they should be.”

“Right now in detention, we are only confining those kids that truly do scare us. That are truly a public safety threat,” he added.

‘Not trained to handle certain situations’

State data from earlier this year shows staffing levels are critically low. The vacancy rate for positions working directly with inmates reached as high as 72%, averaging 40% across facilities.

Simply put, facilities have more inmates but less staff.

“It’s the constant watching your back, watching your staff’s back,” the employee told Goetz.

Warrants we obtained show it was a homicide suspect who was accused of starting the takeover at the youth development center. In radio traffic from that night, you can hear officers explaining to dispatch how they had to step in and help.

“We have ordered the staff out of the pod, told them to lock the pod down. All the inmates in that pod other than the five are in their cells secured,” officers said. “We’ve got some throwing feces. One has a set of shackles so we are locking the pod down and waiting on negotiators.”

“I just think that we’re definitely undermanned and not trained to handle certain situations,” the staff member told Goetz.

Goetz asked for more information.

“They teach you how to restrain one, but they don’t teach you how to deal with two kids or three kids or multiple kids at one time, fighting or or a riot situation,” they said. “We don’t have no tools to help us.”

The staff member is calling on state leaders to send help.

“It’s easy to sit on a desk all day and bark orders. But you’re not down here, doing what we’re doing with these kids,” they said.

“It’s definitely a public safety issue,” they added.

Juvenile justice officials presented ideas to lawmakers in Raleigh earlier this month, including:

  • Increasing the number of centers in the state
  • Hiring temporary security guards
  • Providing sign-on and retention bonuses

CMPD Chief: ‘We must address these issues holistically’

In an op-ed published in the Charlotte Observer on Thursday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Chief Johnny Jennings agreed with Lassiter’s concerns and also called for more resources.

Jennings specifically mentioned local youth outreach programs, citing their success with curbing re-offenders. He also mentioned Mecklenburg County’s now-closed juvenile jail, saying it should reopen to help with overcrowding.

The chief added there is no single solution to the spike in youth crime.

“We must address these issues holistically. We will not be able to arrest our way out of them,” Jennings wrote.

“While the juvenile justice system faces challenges, we must work with our partners to invest in solutions that create positive changes and brighter futures for our young people,” he concluded.

Read the op-ed here.

(WATCH BELOW: Murder suspect arrested for starting riot in juvenile detention center)

Hannah Goetz

Hannah Goetz, wsoctv.com

Hannah is a reporter for WSOC-TV.

Michael Praats

Michael Praats, wsoctv.com

Michael is an investigative producer for Channel 9.