MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) Parents, teens and authorities say Horry County Jail Diversion Program is reducing youth crime.
There are currently hundreds of teens facing charges in Horry County, but in a WMBF News special report, Anchor Michael Maely learned the number of crimes and juvenile offenders are dropping.
"Hurry Up, let's go, and get used to that orange jump suit, this is what it's like behind bars," yells Cpl. Robert Butler of the Horry County Sheriff's Department. He doesn't dislike the teen offenders in the 15th Circuit Juvenile Diversion program, he just wants them to know what life in The J. Reuben long detention center will be like if they make the same choices 22-year-old Gervais Green did.
"They caught me with 52 grams of crack 82 grams of marijuana, and I can't remember how much money," Green told the teens. "Right then and there I knew my life was about to change."
"Next time you steal from K-mart you're going to get a ride right up into this jail. Except it ain't gonna be someone on this side of the door talking to you. It's going to be someone in there with you," said Ted Perdue to one of the teens put into a cell.
Perdue is also in the Life Recovery Program, educating the teens of what can happen to them if they make the wrong choice, and get in trouble again. "I'm 42 years old. I've had about 4 years of my adult life outside [jail]," said Perdue.
"I'm a felon, my charge don't define the person I am, but who can I blame for that, who? Only myself," admits Green.
"We're trying to teach you something here today, we don't want you to come back here," said Horry County Deputy Sheriff Jeff Benton, who spends 90 minutes, twice a month, talking to different groups of teens, and explaining how they can overcome obstacles if they accept responsibility and focus on character. "People live by first impressions. When they see how you dress, how you act, how you talk, how you are in school, what you do at your job, they're going to make a long last impression of you," Benton told the teens.
15th Circuit solicitors will dismiss charges if offenders don't violate probation and complete other terms of the sentence, including community service.
And authorities say it appears to be working, last year prosecutors dismissed roughly 32 percent of all charges because of compliance. That percentage is up from just 20 percent of cases dismissed when the program started in 2008.
The number of teen offenders has gone down; authorities say they arrested 500 fewer teens last year than in 2008.
The teens WMBF News talked to are getting the message. Takara Davis, 17, says the idea of coming back to jail for more than a day, scared her. " Yes it does, I don't want to be back here, and if someone pushes me again, I'm not gonna fight. I'm gonna ignore them and walk way," Davis claims.
"I was emotional cause I seen her crying and she didn't want me being in here, and it really just disappointed me cause I know I could have been better," said 15-year-old Iteshia Goss when asked her about the jail tour.
"I'm going to try to bite my tongue. Instead of talking back, and just say 'yes ma'am' and walk away. And if I have to, just go in my room and mumble under my breath," said 15-year-old Mercedes DeCarmine.
Seeing their children jailed is something no parent wants, but parents of the teens in this program hope it works.
"I wanted her to learn, to get the understanding. I always talk to her, explain to her what life is really about -- but hearing it from someone else, makes a lot of difference," said Teresa Davis.
Parents across the board agreed it was a difficult day for them too.
"Well it was emotional for me, as a mother, actually. This is the first time of being behind bars myself, and it's a learning experience for them," Louise Shim agrees. "I wanted to see her expression; I wanted to see her facial expression, just to look at her and see what she's going through and what she experiences. I think she gets it."
Crystal Harrelson's son didn't want to talk with WMBF News, but his mom had plenty to say about the impact of the tour. "I've never experienced anything like this. It was important for me to be here today. My son, my children are the most important thing in my life. And I'll do whatever I have to do to protect them - whatever I have to do. And tough love...that's hardest."
And tough love it is.
"I want you to look your parents in the face and apologize to them and thank them for not giving up on you," said Deputy Sheriff Benton.
"It hurt me because she was disappointed and knew that I could be doing better than what I've been doing, this was a wakeup call," said Davis.