by David Shivers
One way to fight crime is to intervene in children’s to alleviate or prevent circumstances that could lead to trouble later on.
That was the focus of a program Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul and sheriff’s Lt.Terron Hayes delivered for the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County on November 4. Their remarks centered on their department’s local programs as well as the statewide Georgia Sheriffs’ Youth Homes.
Sheriff Sproul also announced his office’s juvenile intervention efforts had drawn the attention of the A&E television network, which has been to Albany to film a segment of “Beyond Scared Straight” that will air Thursday night, November 21, at 10 p.m. on the A&E channel.
Sheriff Sproul said A&E contacted him initially, and “I explained that since 1991 through church and working with (his predecessor) Sheriff Saba, it is just part of who I am and what I do. They just couldn’t fathom that I would sit down with boys in a jail cell after inmates had broke them down into being almost nothing and I would try to build them back up.” A&E came to town in June and filmed an episode that involved six young men, said Sproul. Most recently, he added, another seven juveniles were put through the “scared straight” program.
Lt. Hayes, of the DCSO’s crime prevention unit, is a former Albany police officer who worked with schools. He enumerated a few of the 18 or more programs the sheriff’s office operates or participates in for local youth, including CHAMPS (Choosing Health Activities and Methods Promoting Safety), Shop with a Sheriff, and the summer day program “to get kids off the street and into a structured environment.”
“We try to teach the young men about the saggy pants thing, how if they pull up their pants they’ll feel better about who they are and what they are, said Lt. Hayes. “For the girls, we try to give them not just gifts, but things they need to matriculate into womanhood, teach them about personal hygiene, how to take care of themselves.” Also offered are counseling sessions for youth and parents to help each understand their role in caring.
The department is also working, Lt. Hayes said, on “building a community unit concept to bridge our communities and law enforcement together, address their issues and concerns, and have a better relationship.” A community barbecue was held recently at Heath Park in East Albany and future plans are to hold gatherings in south, west, and north neighborhoods also.
The Dougherty Sheriff’s Office sponsors an annual golf tournament fundraiser, with all funds taken in going to the youth and crime prevention programs, according to Sheriff Sproul.
Sheriff Sproul related what he first heard several years during a church conference: “Children don’t care what you know until they know you care for them.” Over the years he and his wife have taken nearly 20 young men and women into their home, some staying for up to a year. These kids were not necessarily behavioral problems, the sheriff shared, but were neglected, abused, or came from an irresponsible family background.
Naming about a dozen different and troubling things that today’s youth often have to deal with, Sproul said, “It’s even sadder that kids (may) have mom and dad back in the bathroom melting drugs in a spoon.”
The sheriff then turned his focus to the Georgia Sheriffs’ Youth Homes, an organization started some 50 years ago by several sheriffs in southwest Georgia who, according to a video presentation, “came together and talked of the need to provide safe and secure homes for children in their communities.” The first Georgia Sheriffs’ Home still operates in Hahira, but the organization has expanded to additional campuses in Chatsworth, Dalton, LaGrange, and Swainsboro. The homes offer stable, caring environments for children, including counselors and house parents, as well as athletic and artistic opportunities, regular school attendance, and a chance to attend college or a technical school beyond high-school graduation. In the video youth home officials and alumni spoke of their troubled home lives, often involving parental abuse of drugs and alcohol, and the positive impact the sheriffs’ homes, or “ranches”, as they are often referred to, has had on their lives.
Sheriff Sproul encouraged citizens to tour the youth home campuses and said that can be arranged by contacting your local county sheriff.
He concluded with a quote he said he often uses from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive away darkness; only light do that. And hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” He thanked the Kiwanis DoCo Club for the love and support members show for their families and the community.
“Thank you for all you do,” he finished. “It sure makes my job a lot easier. I’m proud to be your sheriff and God bless you.”
Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul speaks to Kiwanians of his passion for helping youth.