Corrections officers at the Carter County Jail tested the new facility on Saturday evening with about 100 youth from around the community taking part in a rare lock-in.
Before real prisoners move into the new jail in the next few weeks, corrections officers tested the building with the youth, locking them in the cell blocks, feeding them and testing radios. They also conducted security and safety checks.
Carter County Sheriff Chris Mathes said, “I organized it because it was the right thing to do and I believe it will honor God. It’s a last training exercise.”
The unique event featured local speakers and pastors, a youth contemporary Christian band and jail staff.
“This once in a lifetime event might send a positive message to our youth and community for years to come,” the sheriff said. “I believe that this is much needed and pray that a positive change comes from this event.”
Mathes noted that he hopes youth who attended the event will not want to return in the future. “The making of a wrongful decision can lead to the committing of a crime which can happen in seconds and likely land a person in jail.”
The sheriff said most teens find themselves with daily choices and dilemmas which could forever change their life by simply making a wrong split second decision. “It is the goal of the Carter County Sheriff’s Office to educate the youth of our city and county and help them make better life decisions,” Mathes said. “By seeing the jail from the inside in such an event as a jail lock-in, will hopefully leave a lasting impact with the teenagers in such a manner that they never want to spend a day in jail.”
Church buses and vans and family vehicles began arriving at the new jail facility around 5:30 p.m. The youth, ranging from seventh to twelfth grade, were divided into groups and given tours of the facility. Sgt. Stacy McKinney told one group, “You don’t have control. We will control you.”
McKinney was speaking about how prisoners will be treated once they move into the jail. He said many prisoners believe they will run the facility, but in the new jail, they will not. The prisoners will be told when to go in and out of their cells, when they can eat, when they go to the recreation room and when they can watch television. McKinney said that if the guard wants to watch “Barney,” prisoners will have no choice and will have to watch “Barney” as well.
The sergeant also pointed out the cameras which constantly watch different areas of the jail in order to protect the prisoners and the guards.
After the tour, the youth were held in a cell block until the jail food was served around 7:30 p.m. The speakers also talked to the youth during that time. McKinney said the event was designed to give youth a taste of what it would be like if they are arrested and taken to jail.
Later in the evening, all of the youth were taken to a separate cell block where a local Christian band performed.
By midnight, all of the youth were released from jail.
“Although community events such as midnight basketball and teen lock-ins are not new, the idea of teenagers spending the evening inside of a new unoccupied jail is likely a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Mathes said. “There is simply not many positives which can be said about building a new jail, but in this case, we want to take a negative and make it positive by helping our teens make good decisions.”
Prisoners from the old jail will soon be moved to the new jail. Mathes says the prisoners nor anyone else has been told when that time will take place for security reasons.