Participants in the Juvenile Offender Impact program (Photo from the Richmond County Sheriff's Office Facebook page)
News 12 at 11 o'clock / Monday, July 29, 2013
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- Violence involving our young people is a growing problem and something we've seen a lot of in recent weeks.
Eight teenagers arrested for gang activity, one charged with murder and another dead after a recent string of violence.
Now the Sheriff's Office is rolling out new programs to help before it's too late.
"They took us back and they dressed us out like they do the inmates," explained 17-year-old Jalen Randolph. "After that, they told us we were about to go out to the field and work over there."
He and four others spent one seven-hour day living the life of an inmate, dressed in the jumpsuits and working community service at May Park.
"They told us we were gonna do the same stuff that they do because even if it was raining, snowing, 110 degrees outside, you still have to be out there doing it," Randolph said.
It's all a part of the Juvenile Offender Impact program though the Sheriff's Office. Each juvenile got a tour of the inside of the jail and ate the inmate meal of the day to get an idea of what life is like behind the walls of the jail.
"If you offend, if you commit a crime, if you are incarcerated, this is your life every day whether you choose to or not," explained Sheriff Richard Roundtree. "You don't have a choice to change. This will be your life until the completion of your sentence."
The first group consisted of first-time offenders between 13 and 17 years old, the same age as a boy behind bars for a murder just a week ago.
"I told them because the choices that a 17-year-old made he will spend the large majority of his life behind bars and he can't control that anymore because he's made a mistake that he can not recover from," Roundtree said.
He wants to show the kids in the program that it's not too late.
"You can recover," he said. "You're here today. At the end of the day, you put your clothes back on, you get to go back home. You have a chance to recover from the mistakes that you made."
It was a message Randolph heard loud and clear.
"We don't really think, and it's just like an impulse, but you gotta be smarter than that, and you gotta realize you gotta stay on the right track," Randolph said.
Roundtree says the biggest impact is for those young people to see their lives 100 percent controlled by someone else right down to when you eat or shower. He says that is the most eye-opening thing for the kids.
He's getting a lot of positive feedback from the kids. They say they wish more people could go through it.
Right now, it is being funded by the DJJ reform bill that went into effect July 1, but he says if they can find more funding for it, they'll start including at-risk kids as well.