From left, Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul and Lt. Terron Hayes with the crime prevention unit at the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office conduct a news conference Tuesday regarding its youth intervention programs and the department’s upcoming appearance on “Beyond Scared Straight.” The agency is expected to be featured on the A&E program at 10 p.m. on Thursday. (Staff Photo: Jennifer Parks)
ALBANY — Of the 14 prevention and intervention programs offered through the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office, one will be in the national spotlight when the agency is featured on A&E Network’s “Beyond Scared Straight” this week.
The show, to air at 10 p.m. Thursday, will be highlighting one such program conducted by the agency at the Dougherty County Jail through which inmates interact with the youth coming in for intervention.
“I hope the youth of this community we have not yet begun to reach will see that (these programs) are making a difference,” said Lt. Terron Hayes with the crime prevention unit at the sheriff’s department.
“The (youth intervention) program is important because there is a lot of youth that is lost. Parents are at their wits end, and we are here to assist parents as much as we can.”
Lt. Terron Hayes, Dougherty County Sheriff's Office, on the Dougherty County youth intervention program appearing on "Scared Straight"
The show follows at-risk teens who have been in trouble with the law for various offenses and are forced to spend a day, and sometimes a night, in jail and be confronted by convicted felons and experience the reality of life behind bars.
The program being featured, also called Beyond Scared Straight, is offered through the department’s crime prevention and intervention unit with the philosophy — encouraged by Sheriff Kevin Sproul — that while punishing offenders is a necessary part of the criminal justice system, helping prevent entry — or at least re-entry — into the system is preferred.
“We are not going to get rid (of recidivism), but we are going to do the best we can,” he said. ” … We will reduce the statistics we see at such a young age today.”
Efforts have been ongoing by the department for more than 15 years of breaking down youth and building them back up, and then tracking them over the following months. Children come into the youth programs, which range from mild to aggressive, through referrals — even from outside of Albany — from various entities such as parents, school systems and counseling agencies, and 200 interventions have been conducted since September.
“It you’re a parent, you understand what youth are facing in our society,” Sproul said. “Without a mom, dad or a family structure in place … (we) need to change the thought pattern of these young men.”
The team from A&E was in Albany in June and filmed in the jail for roughly eight hours. A preview available on the network’s website shows that among the scenarios presented Thursday will be that of “Blue,” a 12-year old who stayed out after curfew and was kicked out of school for carrying marijuana while his brother “Nard,” 13, boasts that he hit a boy in the face with a brick.
The jail’s program is usually mentoring children as young as 8 years through 16 years of age. It is done on a case-by-case basis, with the staff at the sheriff’s office counseling not just the youth, but the whole family.
While not known to many outside the region, those in the Albany and Dougherty County area are aware of Sproul’s efforts to reach out to youth, having hosted a number of young individuals in his own home for up to a year at a time.
It was the sheriff’s efforts in this endeavor, he said, that impressed the officials at A&E.
“They made a comment that they were intrigued because myself, the sheriff, was involved in it,” Sproul said. “They told us they have gone all over the country and had not seen a sheriff ( involved in this to that magnitude).
” … I hope that people learn something (from Thursday’s program about us), but if they don’t that’s OK. ‘Beyond Scared Straight’ chose us because of the program we have in place. We were critical of the video (at first) to make sure the public sees what we wanted them to.”
Another thing that makes the sheriff’s department’s efforts stand out, Hayes said, is the family approach the agency takes.
“Our intervention programs are very unique in that they (reach out to the entire family),” he said. “(Otherwise), they (the children) would get into the office, go home and revert back to the way they were. We travel to schools … we track them and follow them as much as possible.
“We get more success stories than we do failures.”
While the target is the children, the inmates who participate in it also get a lot out of these outreach efforts.
“The inmates are very receptive,” Sproul said. ” We screen inmates, and from what we see, the inmates get just as much out of this as the boys do. They say (to the children): ‘You better appreciate this sheriff’s department, because we didn’t have this.’”
As a result, the inmates also benefit from the extra steps taken to help the children who come in.
“Everything these individuals do is on a volunteer basis. It is from the heart,” Hayes said. “The inmates are not promised anything, and they often see themselves in these young men.
“The (youth intervention) program is important because there is a lot of youth that is lost. Parents (and others) are at their wits end, and we are here to assist parents as much as we can.”
In addition to the footage shot this summer, Sproul said A&E came back a few weeks ago to film at the jail again for a program that will air after the first of the year.