Juvenile probation chief: Cartel teen numbers drop

Border Hope program offers "restorative justice"

The first week after Bruce Ballou was hired as the chief juvenile probation officer for Maverick, Dimmitt and Zavala counties, he said, "We had six kids arrested for transporting major loads."

Ballou said typically the kids are transporting drugs or people over the border into the U.S.

More than two years later, Ballou said he's seen a dramatic 93 percent decrease -- from 27 cases in 2010 to two cases last year.

Ballou said the area's youth have realized the rules have changed.

Rather than avoid prosecution because they're under age, Ballou said, "They now run the risk of being committed to the care, custody and control of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department."

To hopefully avoid that, Ballou said the Border Hope Restorative Justice residential program offers young people referred by the courts, substance abuse and mental health counseling.

He said they also are taught daily living and decision-making skills.

Ballou said they also have various projects, such as donating any crops they grow to the local food pantry.

"They're putting back into the community, instead of taking away," Ballou said.

But he said he also cautions them the program is an artificial environment, unlike the reality of what awaits when they leave.

He said they're asked, "'Can you stay clean? Can you stay sober? Can you stay out of the grip of the stuff on the border?' That's the true test."

Ballou said so far, some have been re-arrested, others are in the adult system, but others succeed and remain on track.

"We're protecting our kids now," Ballou said. "Our kids are beginning to realize, hey, there are people who care about us and take care of us."

For a list of recent stories Jessie Degollado has done, click here.

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