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Sheriff: The S.T.O.R.M. is here

Denyse Clark
April 12, 2013

The News & Reporter
Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood recently held a press conference to announce that an impending S.T.O.R.M. was about to descend on Chester County. S.T.O.R.M., an acronym for Showing Teens Our Real Mission, is an overnight jail program targeted for "at-risk" male and female youth ages eight to 18. The program held on April 12 included 14 males who spent 24 hours in lock-up with law enforcement officers to learn about the consequences of bad choices.

"Overall, it went real well," Underwood said. "We want to show them how criminal activity, gangs and other negative activity leads to jail I believe in showing them, as closely as I can, what actual jail would be like!" Sgt. Johnny Neal said Chester's S.T.O.R.M. program, which is similar to the Richland County teen program, is the only other in the nation with an overnight stay and the first session was a success. "I felt it went very well from the start to the finish," he said. "The hardest part for the parents was when their child got into that paddy wagon and we took them away."

Underwood said an in-house parenting workshop was held in conjunction with the teen program. "I wanted the parents to see how it felt to leave their child in jail," he said. "They did a three-minute phone call using a jail phone looking through a window. I wanted to let them know there was nothing anyone could do to get them out of this at that point." The parent of an 18-year-old, who asked to not be identified, said the overnight S.T.O.R.M. program made a life-changing difference in her son's life. "He said, 'Ma, I don't ever want to see anything like that again,'" the teen's mother said. "Just seeing a place where prisoners are held was a big experience for him he was scared! It made a difference in his life."

Neal has spoken with other parents who have noticed a positive change in their child's behavior and attitude. "These parents say they've seen a total difference in their child who said they never want to come back here," he said. Underwood said he spoke to a mother who told him she was "shocked" when her son came home and cut the grass after leaving the program on Saturday. S.T.O.R.M. is designed to promote personal and social responsibility for teens and to discourage them from getting involved in illegal drugs, firearms and gangs, the sheriff said. "We have a lot of gangs here in Chester a lot of them are neighborhood gangs," he said. "People think drugs and gangs are everywhere else but it's going on here, too!

S.T.O.R.M. participants were not housed among the main prison population but in the new part of the detention center where there are 64, two-men cells. Each participant was placed in an individual cell, had their cell phones taken from them and were dressed in traditional prison garb a one size fits all black-and-white striped two piece suit or a pink jump suit. The pink jump suit was not obtained solely for the females who will go through the program, Neal said.

"It's for the bad-butts," he said. "The ones who think they can do what they want to do that's the reason we have two different kinds of suits." The sheriff encourages parents, DJJ officials, magistrates and school officials to recommend youth to this program to help deter them from a future life of crime. There is a fee of $25 per participant for in-county residents and $30 for out-of-county participants. Every other month, the program will alternate for males and females. The S.T.O.R.M. program on May 10 is exclusively for females. "Our mission is to show them how to do the right thing," Underwood said. In addition to assistance from Richland County officers, Chester is aided by the sheriff departments from Fairfield, Union, Lancaster and York. For more information or to sign up for the S.T.O.R.M. program, contact the Chester County Sheriff's Office at 581-5131. Donations can be sent to the Chester County Sheriff's Office, Attention: S.T.O.R.M. Project

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