Special Report: Inside the Juvenile Justice System

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) -- 10 On your Side's Don Roberts has worked months and months to get an unprecedented look inside the juvenile justice system in Hampton Roads -- with the stories from the underage offenders themselves.

Finally, the City of Newport News agreed, but only if we do not show their faces. Don had a candid conversation with the juveniles about how they got behind bars and how they plan to change everything when it's time to get out.

There are 66 children between the ages of 12 and 17 who are locked up at the Newport News Juvenile Detention Center. Each of them has been charged with, or convicted of a crime.

"The charges and convictions, range from misdemeanors to felonies: shoplifting to murder," Walmon said.

New arrivals pass through three steel doors, then see a sign, painted by previous residents: "Today is not the end, it's the first day of the rest of your life..."

"We want them to know that there's always a positive outlook, no matter what you deal with in life," said Oliver Walmon, Newport News Secure Detention Administrator.

Of the 66 children currently at the Newport News Juvenile Detention Center, 56 are male and 10 are female. The good news: At least 40 of the 110 beds at the center are empty.

"I didn't start getting into trouble until I started doing drugs," one teen told 10 On Your Side. "I used it as an escape... Family problems... I went through a lot of abuse... My mother went through a lot of abuse... I had to witness it because I was in the same house."

Problems at home are a common theme with many of these juvenile offenders.

"I didn't like to listen to my mom, and stuff like that," a 16-year-old said.

Don Roberts replied, "Why? She loves you and wants the best for you."

"I understand," the 16-year-old said. "I felt that I was grown and I do what I wanted to."

A girl, 17, said being at the detention center has taught her an important lesson: "Once I got in here, I realized like, my family is all I got," she said.

On the day of our visit, Don Roberts spoke to a 17-year-old boy, who we'll refer to as "N." He was one of a handful to have a visitor and agreed to talk with WAVY News with his mother at his side.

"Police like to bother me 'cause I gotta name on the streets, I guess," N said.

Don asked him, "Tell me about the choice you made and why you made it?"

"Well, basically I felt like I was protecting myself," N answered.

Don replied: "What's going on in your mind as you are in here... with your mom sitting beside you? ...She's got all the hopes and dreams in the world for you."

"Well, that's a hard one," N said.

N's mother said she will support her son no matter what.

"He's a good kid, you know, but, out there in the community, he do make some bad choices... But as a parent, I'm going to support him regardless."

N will be released one day. Jered Grimes, Post Detention Supervisor, says motivation is key to help ensure he doesn't end up coming back.

"We have in-house community services board counselors who are here for any needs that may have," Grimes said.

Volunteers, like Glen Sorentino and Rebekah Smith who are with a faith-based group called the "Royal Rangers" are at the detention center every week.

"God's given me a special love for these kids. And I want to see their situations change," Sorentino said.

Smith echoed Sorentino's passion.

"These boys remind me of my own children... And there are people in the community that love them," she said.

Rev. Julius Hayes lectures some of the boys at the detention center in class.

"So, we have to know the value of getting an education," Hayes said.

An education that can help each teen at the center develop and realize a dream.

"I plan on being a dentist...Opening up my own practice," one of the teens said.

A big concern for many of the teens is returning to troubled homes and neighborhoods. But officials at the detention center say they are ready to help families with support and professional services after the teens are released.

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