The dark past of the Stonewall Jackson Youth Development Center

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CONCORD, N.C. (WNCN) – On about 100 acres in Concord, North Carolina, you’ll find the Stonewall Jackson Youth Development Center

Opening in 1909, it served as North Carolina’s first juvenile facility.

William Lassiter, the Deputy Secretary for Juvenile Justice with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, said troubled kids were sent to Stonewall Jackson instead of state prison.

“Up until that point, juveniles were housed with adults in the state of North Carolina,” Lassiter said. “A juvenile as young as six or five years old, could be put in an adult prison, or an adult facility.”

Today, most of the buildings from the original campus are abandoned.

But memories of what went on behind the brick walls live on.

Russell Dan Smith told CBS 17 he went to Stonewall Jackson in 1963 at 13 years old, after breaking into a home and stealing things.

“I think of brutality,” Smith said of the school. “All of the worse things that society can bring upon a child.”

More than half a century later, his time at Stonewall Jackson still haunts him.

“While I was there, I was raped, and then I was punished for being raped,” Smith said. “We were all punished for that. We were written up. My parents were notified, not that I was raped, but that I had had sex with boys in the bedroom. My parents never got over that.”

“While I was there, I was beaten for smoking my first cigarette,” Smith added. “I received 76 lashes for my first cigarette.”

“We have a very different system than what we had in the 1960s,” Lassiter said.

According to Lassiter, the state’s youth facilities now stress therapy over punishment.

“What we’ve learned was that just getting on them, getting in their face and being punitive towards them really wasn’t changing their behavior,” Lassiter said. “We also used to lock kids in their room for a long time, and put them in isolation. We don’t do that anymore. We find that kids that are locked in their rooms, they’re not growing. They’re not getting the therapy. They’re not trying to use the skills we’re trying to teach them.”

Around most of the older buildings at Stonewall Jackson YDC, you’d find lots of fencing and razor wire surrounding them. According to NC DPS officials, it’s because the buildings are condemned and considered unsafe to be inside. They also said the buildings can’t be torn down, because they’re considered historic.

Today, kids at Stonewall Jackson are at the Cabarrus Complex, built in 2008.

“It’s a smaller setting now, the kids are only on an 8-bed unit, versus what they used to have, large dormitory-style facilities,” Lassiter said. “That 8-bed unit kind of serves as a family. They eat their meals together. They go through therapy together. They do group counseling together, and there’s classes to attend there.”

Lassiter told CBS 17 kids learn life, education and vocation skills at Stonewall Jackson YDC. Many earn a high school diploma, while some even get full college scholarships.

“We’ve changed the structure of the facilities, and what we do in those facilities, and we’re getting better outcomes because of it,” he said.

Lassiter added there are psychologists on staff, and everyone is trained on abuse and neglect policies.

“We take it very seriously,” Lassiter said. “No young person should be going to these facilities and getting abused or harmed in any way.”

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