Mecklenburg County sheriff, CMPD make changes after Raise the Age law enacted

CHARLOTTE — Pingpong, foosball, televisions, a Nintendo Wii and cornhole have been moved into the Mecklenburg County Detention Center North after adults have been moved out.

"It shows them we see them for not just why they are here," Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Maj. C.D. Youngblood said. “I don't look at them as the reason why they are here. I treat them fairly. You want to treat them the way you want to be treated.”

In December 2019, North Carolina became the final state to raise the age, meaning 16- and 17-year-olds are now charged as juveniles.

Since the law was put into place, CMPD said there have been 38 violent cases involving defendants of those two ages. According to police, there were 32 armed robberies, five aggravated assaults and one homicide.

CMPD Maj. Mike Campagna said the spirit of the law is to prevent repeat offenders.

However, there are some immediate challenges for officers.

“Hopefully, long term, what we find is kids aren’t spending time incarcerated learning to become better criminals,” Campagna said. “Short term, it is a challenge because a lot of the violence occurs at the hands of young people.”

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden said change can't be expected overnight.

“It is going to take some time. I hope nobody expects the clock turns 12 and everything happens the way it should happen,” McFadden said. “If the community gets involved, supports us and helps us, I think we can make a change for our teenagers.”

Since being elected as sheriff, McFadden has made numerous changes at the facility. It is no longer referred to as Jail North. Instead, it is referred to as Detention Center North. The Sheriff’s Office no longer refers to people as inmates, instead calling them residents or clients.

“We all have titles. A sergeant doesn't want to be called private. A general doesn't want to be called a captain,” McFadden said. “Titles and labels are important.”

Previously, people were mandated to wear flip-flops and green jumpsuits. The Sheriff’s Office now offers shoes and different colors for jumpsuits. In-person visitation and outdoor recreation have been restored. The sheriff also launched a barber school that allows people to earn training hours. Graduates of the school are guaranteed a bag, clippers, a smock and a job.

In the coming weeks, inmates will all receive a tablet. The tablets’ purpose is to help with coursework and inmates will not have the ability to access social media, according to McFadden.

McFadden said moving adult inmates out of the jail allows his detention officers to focus on rehabilitation and programming for the youth inmates.

“Hopefully, we can touch these hearts and minds so they can be better and more productive citizens,” he said.

The sheriff said he disagrees with detractors who believe the changes to the facility are soft. He said he would challenge those people to come down to the jail and see the programs and results for themselves.

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