‘Juvies’ documentary goes inside system

(MCT) – Kevin Dill spent six weeks watching teenagers get shackled, cuffed and searched. He saw them enter a detention center and get sized up by peers who had done God knows what and by guards who bossed them around.

It wasn’t easy to witness what they went through when they entered the juvenile justice system. But Dill was there to bring home a message for MTV’s young audience.

“Just think before you do stuff,” said Dill, who graduated from East Carolina University.

Dill produced an eight-part series called “Juvies,” which premieres at 10 tonight on MTV. It follows 18 teens through three days in the juvenile justice system in Lake County, Ind., from intake at a detention facility to an appearance in front of a judge. Some kids needed the system’s heavy hand. Others were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Tonight’s episode deals with Sara, a 16-year-old who ran away to Texas with friends, and Cordell, a 17-year-old honor student arrested after wrecking a car.

Dill found Sara’s story heartbreaking. Her relationship with her mother had deteriorated after her stepfather split, and this was not the first time she had run away. After three days in the detention center, she was desperate to go home, but her mother didn’t think she could handle Sara.

At the end of her segment, Sara’s future is unclear. Dill hesitates to judge her mother.

“That’s a tough call,” he said. “We don’t know all the back story about that – why Sara keeps running away. We didn’t broaden out and go way into the deep background of it all.”

Cordell was arrested after getting behind the wheel of a friend’s mother’s car. When he hit two parked cars, his passengers bolted. The friend, Lamont, lied to his mother and said Cordell stole the car.

Cordell said it is tough being locked up. “I’m usually the guy that tells everybody else what’s wrong and what’s right.”

Dill, 42, said MTV’s news and documentary division chose him to produce “Juvies” based on his own earlier documentaries, including UPN’s Emmy-winning series “Teen Files” and MTV’s “Flipped,” in which two people switch roles for a day.

Dill said he had little problem getting teens and parents to agree to participate in “Juvies.”

“Kids wanted to be on MTV, of course, and their parents saw it as an opportunity to show other kids that, hey, this could happen to you as well,” he said.