Judge Charlie Baird says that for the more than 1,800 people on probation in his court to turn their lives around and stay out of jail, they need a job. Baird thinks, sometimes to the dismay of prosecutors, that probation, and not prison, is appropriate in many cases, reports the Austin American-Statesman. Last week, he week began the county’s first in-court effort to link people on probation with counselors who could help them find jobs. He called to court about 25 people he had previously sentenced to probation and ordered them to meet with counselors. Most of them had been convicted of drug crimes; none was a violent offender. “The best anticrime program is a job,” Baird said.
When people come before him because of parole violations, he said, “the dominant factor is they don’t have steady employment. That leads to depression, drugs, drinking too much, hanging with the wrong crowd.” Ex-offenders, and experts who work with them, say that many ex-convicts want to change their lives but that after being rebuffed at a few job interviews, they often give up hope and turn back to crime. The job effort is ambitious in a court with a bustling docket: 976 cases were pending in Baird’s court Aug. 1. That is the second-highest total among the seven judges that hear felony cases. Baird is proud of his propensity to give probation. He says Texas prisons often produce worse criminals and should be a last resort for some offenders.