Pubdate: Fri, 04 Feb 2000
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2000 Houston Chronicle
Contact:  Viewpoints Editor, P.O. Box 4260 Houston, Texas 77210-4260
Fax: (713) 220-3575
Page: 27A
Author: Thom Marshall


HAVE to make this quick so as not to be late reporting for jury duty.

I got passed over last time I was called, just a few months ago, and left 
the courthouse feeling depressed. However, after spending some time this 
week in Angleton with Lawrence Jablecki, director of the Brazoria County 
Community Supervision and Corrections Department, I feel a little better.

Jablecki has been in the probation branch of the system for 21 years. Thus 
he has known a large number of criminals charged with a large variety of 
crimes. He has paid close attention to the reasons that some of them 
straighten out and others don't. He can quote figures and statistics to 
bolster the opinions and conclusions spawned by his experience. A scholar 
with a Ph.D. in philosophy, he can offer files, books and studies as 
convincing exhibits.

"Right now we have about 151,000 inmates in Texas prisons," he said. 
"Seventy to 75 percent of our inmates are minorities. More of our 
African-American males age 17 to 25 are in prison than in college. Our 
entire legal system is disenfranchising tens of thousands of people for the 
rest of their lives. They can't vote, can't serve on a jury, can't hold 
public office."

Many lives ruined

Don't think Jablecki is an old softy. He believes "violent and repeat 
offenders deserve to go to prison for a long time."

However, he pointed out that violent and repeat offenders represent only a 
portion of those currently being warehoused in our vast penal system. We 
are adding prisons like McDonald's adds restaurants in order to punish the 
throngs of substance abusers being handed mandatory sentences.

Jablecki said that he has seen many lives "totally ruined" because people 
were sent to jail or prison for abusing themselves with drugs. He said that 
"instead of spending billions of dollars building prisons," we need to 
"rethink" our goals, concentrate more on treatment and education and training.

Our criminal-justice system is engaged in an ever-expanding war on drugs 
with no end in sight. People who use or traffic in illegal substances are 
the enemy. And in warfare, the object is to totally defeat your enemies, to 
capture them.

A 1998 clipping in Jablecki's files quotes a U.S. Department of Justice 
study that predicts one of every 20 Americans born in 1997 will spend time 
in prison, based on the current rate of incarceration.

Jablecki, because of his job, might be considered a high-ranking officer in 
the drug war. But he doesn't view abusers as enemies. He knows many of them 
are good kids who made bad choices, stupid mistakes. He knows that with the 
right kind of help and encouragement, they will straighten out and lead 
productive and drug-crime-free lives.

Jablecki isn't the only high-ranking drug war officer with such views. The 
Campaign for an Effective Crime Policy, a national organization formed a 
few years ago, includes such Texas sponsors as Travis County District 
Attorney Ronald Earle, former Texas House Corrections Committee Chairman 
Allen Hightower, former state prison board Chairman Selden Hale, 
Nacogdoches County Sheriff Joe Evans and others.

Look at alternatives

A sentence from the campaign call says: "Too often sentencing practices, 
laws and prison-release policies needlessly hold offenders in prison, 
sometimes for long terms, when community-based alternatives would safely 
serve society's interest in punishment."

I figure the reason I wasn't put on the jury last time was because that 
quote pretty well sums up what I tried to convey in answers to the 
prosecutor's voir dire questions.

Jablecki tries to keep people from having to go to prison by working with 
ones who get put on probation. He said that in other places a great many 
folks have their probations revoked for technical violations and not 
because of committing new crimes. But his standing order to his staff is: 
"You are not to recommend prison time for someone if we can do something else."

There is, he said, "a very long list of things we can do for probationers," 
from adult education programs, to counseling sessions for specific 
problems, to a second chance to make good on restitution.

Quite an interesting fellow. In his spare time he teaches a couple of 
university philosophy classes to prisoners at the Ramsey 1 Unit, and you 
should hear him go on about how helpful it can be to learn the lessons of 

But that must wait for another day. I'll barely make it to jury duty. Bet I 
don't get picked this time, 
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart