'Raise the Age': Meck County prepares for more juvenile offenders

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office is bracing for more teens to enter juvenile detention in December.

That’s when the statewide initiative Raise the Age goes into effect.

It moves 16- and 17-year-olds who commit low-level offenses into the juvenile system.

It means Mecklenburg County's youthful offender program is growing and the detention center may become a state facility.

“Our job and our responsibility is to return these kids back better than when they came to us,” said Dr. Keith Cradle, the director of the youth programs.

Jail North currently has 40 juveniles in that age range who are spending their time waiting to see how their cases shake out in the court system.

But soon that number will increase to more than 100 kids of varying ages.

“How do you want us to prepare your youth?” asked Sheriff Garry McFadden.

McFadden and his youth staff, led by Keith Cradle, believe that preparation means changing the game.

They implemented a uniform of polo shirts and khakis instead of a jumpsuit.

“We feel if they look good, they'll feel good,” said Cradle.

For the first time in 19 years, the youth can go to outdoor recreation.

The program is adding job fairs, career builders and art therapy.

Pet therapy with rescue animals is on its way.

“We are preparing them for the return. Most people don’t understand that. The punishment is the time they spend away from home,” said McFadden.

The space will soon get a makeover.

The detention center has already created a space with natural light and housing units that feel more like dorms.

Employees plan to paint the walls and add carpeting and different furniture.

“We are building back the esteem and the humanity that some of the kids may have lost,” said Cradle.

It’s these changes that now have North Carolina eyeing Mecklenburg County for a state facility.

“We hope the state understands we need funding. We are going to need resources, and our numbers are probably going to go up,” said McFadden.