Fayette County’s juvenile probation officers endeavor to change behavior of their charges to keep juvenile drug users from transforming into lifelong addicts as adults.

“The approach we take — we’re here to try and get them the help they need to become productive members of the community,” said Heath I. Randolph, chief juvenile probation officer. “We’re not here to punish even though everyone sees us that way. We’re here to help rehabilitate. Even though sometimes that turns into a form of punishment, that’s not our sole mission here.”

Randolph said the consequences from drug usage can extend a lifetime. A felony conviction could deter college admission counselors from accepting potential students, and the same would apply to military recruiters.

“This could potentially stick with you for the rest of your life,” Randolph said.

And drug usage can lead to other crimes as addicts feed their habit.

Randolph said more than 50 percent of the theft cases handled by the office were in some way connected to some type of drug activity. He said drug offenders have the highest rate of recidivism.

“We’ve always found that a lot of our drug users are tied to property crimes,” Randolph said. “If you can’t afford it, then what do you do? You are going to go out and steal, break into cars, commit criminal mischief, burglarize homes. To get the drugs, they are going to pawn or trade for services — whatever the case may be.”

The juvenile probation office (JPO) offers a lifeline to those intent on change.

Randolph said when a criminal complaint is filed against a juvenile, JPO screens that person to determine the action needed. That process involves drug testing and extensive interviews with the juvenile and other affected parties prior to disposition.

“Every situation is unique,” Randolph said. “Every situation has its own set of circumstances. That’s where the probation officers really have to get involved. We see them at home. We see them at school. We see them in the community. We’re involved with the kids a lot. The probation officers do a really good job of following up with the kids, screening them, making sure they are getting services or attending services. We are aware of the situation there.”

Randolph said JPO applies a community-based approach.

“You want to keep the kids in the community and involved,” he said. “They have to learn to work through those issues.”

Randolph said the alternative — commitment to a treatment facility — is not necessarily the best way of handling the situation.

“If you take them to a secure unit, which is pretty much a jail, you have them while they are there,” he said. “But at some point, they are going to come back out. If they haven’t addressed those issues, whatever that issue is that’s made them turn to use, then they are not going to be able to cope with it. And they are going to turn right back to it. You have to work with them in the community, and we’ve had very good success with that.”

Randolph said there are success stories, though it may not be instant.

“When you put kids through counseling, sometimes it takes three, four or five times before you find something that they key on, that they buy into,” he said. “They say, ‘I may want to change my behavior.’ They don’t like the outcomes, or they are becoming uncomfortable. They realize, that’s really not the way they want to live the rest of their lives. You really have to find some way to make that connection with them.”

Despite JPO due diligence, some people can’t be reached. Randolph said there is always that teenager intent on defying authority.

But, said Randolph, change comes from within for anyone — teenager or adult.

“I could give you a million dollars for counseling, but if you are not ready to make a change or want to make a change or are unable to make a change, no matter how much intervention you get, you are not going to change or be able to change,” Randolph said. “There’s no cookie cutter way to make someone change. It’s based off the individual.”

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