Troubled teens get a taste of life in jail through Chester County program

Image 1 of 3

A group of deputies waited in a parking lot not far from the Chester County Sheriff’s Office on a cold Friday night in January.

They brought extra handcuffs and a vehicle large enough to transport eight teens to the jail.

 “We really focus on high risk youth,” explained Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood. Their parents signed them up to send them off to jail for the weekend. It’s all part of Project STORM. Underwood launched the program several years ago and has seen a combined 700 teens come through. Somewhere between 15 and 20 out of that figure have been incarcerated.

The boys are not in trouble with the law yet and that’s the way the Sheriff wants it to stay.

“Get into push up position,” yelled one deputy. The deputies break the boys down only to build them back up. They work out before going to jail and once they arrive.

While the boys are being pushed their parents are sitting through a mandatory parenting class. There, a deputy discusses different parenting styles and the realities of what happens out on the streets.

They also hear from Sheriff Underwood. He shares his experience. It’s one that hits close to home.

“I have a son doing time in prison unfortunately and it’s one of the reasons I started this program,” he said. Underwood’s son made a bad decision which sent him to prison. Visiting his son really isn’t an option considering his job and that he’s personally sent people to prison.

The sheriff’s office says most of what they deal with through the program is disrespect. It starts at home and spreads into school. Counselors come in to help deputies get to the root of the problems.

“This was my last resort to get some results. He’s been acting out in school,” said Dominique who brought her 12-year-old son.

“Lying, stealing, bad grades,” said Maribel who brought her son Jonathan on his 14th birthday. She says he thinks he’s untouchable.

Once inside the jail the teens change out of their clothes into orange jumpsuits. They are assigned their cells but the night is not over yet. They are taken to visit with those who are locked up for a reason.

“I’m 17. I’m in here for murder. You got a chance. I was supposed to graduate. Make something out of yourself,” one teen behind bars pleaded.

“They are wishing they weren’t here. It’s settling in that they are in jail,” said Underwood as he walked by the boy’s jail cells.

Sheriff Underwood and his deputies believe in Project STORM. His deputies rotate shifts throughout the weekend but volunteer their time. They don’t get paid.

As for the parents, they hope it is an eye opening experience.

A little tough love now that will keep their kids from serving time later.