Or he could be dead. Instead, Freddie will be free in December after finishing a year of court-ordered juvenile probation in his drug smuggling case. And he owes his good fortune to Bruce Ballou, the chief juvenile probation officer for Maverick, Zavala and Dimmit Counties.

Mr. Ballou, who has held his position for a year, focuses on a “restorative justice” approach to rehabilitation. He has helped Freddie and other teenagers who have gotten caught up in the drug trade that flourishes on the Texas-Mexico border, but who are willing to turn their lives around.

“It is a forgiving piece, not necessarily a judicial hammer, but a piece where we put the victims back whole and we put back into the system instead of take away from the system,” Mr. Ballou said of his approach, which includes teaching the teenagers skills like construction, electrical work and carpentry at detention centers. “The benefit to the kids is that they are learning a trade.”

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