“Camp Cradle” offers teen offenders chance to be active outside of jail

Camp Cradle allows 16- and 17-year-olds at Detention Center North to participate in outdoor recreation for the first time in 19 years.
Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden and Sheriff Office’s Youth Program Director Dr. Keith Cradle engage with youth offenders during Camp Cradle. Photo courtesy of Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden has launched a new initiative that grants 16- and 17-year-olds housed at Detention Center North a chance to participate in outdoor activities.

“Camp Cradle” is an outdoor summer recreation program where four days a week youth offenders are allowed two hours outside to play football, badminton, cornhole and other sports.

“We want to get these kids outside and do something very different to not only help build their self-esteem, but increase physical activity,” said the program’s namesake, Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office Youth Program Director Dr. Keith Cradle.

It’s been 19 years since the inmates have been allowed outside of the facility for recreation. Sheriff McFadden terminated solitary confinement in Charlotte-Mecklenburg youth detention facilities during his first 100 days in office.

In addition to outdoor privileges, the teens will also get new uniforms. Inside, they’ll wear polo shirts and khakis before switching into green jumpsuits for Camp Cradle. On their feet, sneakers to replace the flip-flops previously worn.

The initiative has received generally positive feedback, although a Sheriff’s Office spokesperson said there were “a few trolls on social media.”

A first-time partnership

Detention Center North has partnered with the YMCA of Greater Charlotte to offer its Y-Achievers program to incarcerated youth. This is the first time Y-Achievers has been offered in a detention facility.


The program provides college and career-focused programming, teaching things like goal-setting and how to create plans for the future. Allison Jones, YMCA’s director of public relations and communications, said Y-Achievers also serves as a first connection point to resources available through the YMCA. Youth who are released from Detention Center North will receive a free membership to the YMCA branch closest to their home address.

“[The Y] really understands youth development and what the community needs, and so they understand what we’re trying to do,” said Cradle. “It’s one of those easy bridges to make to fill gaps.”

Positive Affirmations

Another key camp feature is the Youth Inspirational Quote Wall, which holds inspiring quotes from prolific figures like Mahatma Gandhi. The wall is used as a teaching tool and conversation starter.

“For many of these kids, they are going to wake up having a rough start to the day. That ability to come out and see these quotes as they are walking up the hallways — to read them, gain inspiration, [and] find some motivation to keep going, that’s what we want,” said Cradle.

Camp Cradle is scheduled to open each summer.

“A big part of what we want to do is be as progressive as possible, be as open as possible, but also understand that these are kids,” Cradle said.


Jonathan Limehouse is a journalist whose passion is to find good and impactful stories. He’s an avid sports fan who can be found at numerous sporting events around Charlotte.

More from QCity Metro