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Commissioner Andrew Haggerty
Director
Magdalena Morales-Aina, LPC-S

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800 E. Overland
Suite 100
El Paso, Texas 79901
Phone (915) 546-8120
Fax (915) 546-8130
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Local news Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Probationer work Expand projects to help keep city clean

El Paso Times

Using probationers to perform clean-up work and other public service continues to be a good idea. It might even be expanded.

It's understood there are liability concerns, and that is even more evident if persons serving time in jail are used. That brings up other issues to consider, such as the needed personnel for supervision on the job sites.

But it would serve El Paso well if probationers and inmates were sent to more areas that are in need of litter removal, weeding and assorted repair jobs -- at no cost to the taxpayers. Paid employees on city crews would then be free to tackle other projects.

In Wisconsin, for example, prisoners have been used to remove snow and rake leaves in yards of elderly citizens.

Community service has long been used as a condition of probation. Some 100 probationers worked at historical landmark Concordia Cemetery Saturday. Concordia cleanup is the normal Wednesday and Saturday practice of the Adult Probation Department.

But with recent rains, tall weeds are an added problem and extra work is needed. There is no regular maintenance service at the cemetery, where more than 60,000 people are buried, said Sue Phillips of the Concordia Heritage Association.

There must be a way to allow cities and counties to use certain prisoners -- non-violent, of course -- to perform needed clean-up work, and it may be surmised that some prisoners would rather be outside in the sun and fresh air than locked up behind bars.

Perhaps there would be plenty of volunteers.

This is not chain-gang work, such as digging ditches for the sake of forcing hard labor. Most people can think of many tasks that would benefit the citizenry.

For example, many lots in El Paso have the same weed problem as does the cemetery. There's paper litter on virtually any sight line. Cans and plastic bottles are strewn throughout the county.

People have been known to dump trash in the desert and in arroyos. All violators are not caught and prosecuted.

Somebody still has to clean it up.

There are those discarded tires that are not only unsightly, but are havens for vermin and for mosquito breeding.

Some 100 probationers helping out with problems at Concordia, a major El Paso tourist site, shows what can be done.

Let's do more of this.
Local news Monday, April 24, 2006

2,000 walk to keep alive memory of crime victims

Erica Molina Johnson
El Paso Times
Monday, April 24, 2006

Carmen Esparza inhaled deeply to steady her composure Sunday morning as she spoke about her son, David Esparza.

"It's still very fresh," she said.

Her 19-year-old son was killed last July by an allegedly drunken driver. His mother carried a sign with a large photo of David, and also wore his photo on her shirt and a large button as she and about 40 family members joined together for the fifth annual Crime Victims Memorial Walk, which drew about 2,000 El Pasoans to Ascarate Park.

"I want to feel that comfort that other parents feel the same," Carmen Esparza said. "It makes me feel better that all these people are feeling the same pain I am. We all want justice."

Donna Villareal, a member of the Crime Victims Rights Council of El Paso, said the event is intended to keep alive the memory of those who have died as a result of crimes.

"There's so much crime, and everyone concentrates on the criminals, but we need to remember the victims," she said.

The names of 940 El Paso crime victims lined the walkway at Ascarate Park, and photos of dozens of these victims smiled out from a temporary wall dedicated to them at the event.

"It's creating a sense of unity," Erika Esparza, David Esparza's sister, said. "We're all coping."

The mood of the event was festive yet somber as those present laughed at memories of their loved ones or choked back tears.

"I'm here for him. My presence for him is all that matters," said Karen Scott, who wore a T-shirt with a photo of her cousin, Gregory Jesus Flores, who was stabbed to death in January 2005, and whose killer has not been caught.

Flores' mother, Yolanda Flores, was bolstered by the approximately 25 family members who attended with her to support her and honor her son. "We want justice for my son," Yolanda Flores said.

Her brother, Ricardo Flores, stood at her side.

"This is a good event because a lot of people feel left out. We all have gone through something horrific and we're not alone," he said.

The feeling was echoed again and again by family and friends of those who died as a result of violence, drunken driving, domestic abuse or other crimes.

"It gives you the feeling you're not alone," said Isela Martinez, cousin of Richard Holguin, who died last June after the intoxicated driver of the car he was riding in struck a pole at Castellano Drive.
Local news Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Probationers trade service for donations

Ken Flynn
El Paso Times

Carmen Esparza inhaled deeply to steady her composure Sunday morning as she spoke about her son, David Esparza.

"It's still very fresh," she said

Her 19-year-old son was killed last July by an allegedly drunken driver. His mother carried a sign with a large photo of David, and also wore his photo on her shirt and a large button as she and about 40 family members joined together for the fifth annual Crime Victims Memorial Walk, which drew about 2,000 El Pasoans to Ascarate Park. "I want to feel that comfort that other parents feel the same," Carmen Esparza said. "It makes me feel better that all these people are feeling the same pain I am.

We all want justice." Donna Villareal, a member of the Crime Victims Rights Council of El Paso, said the event is intended to keep alive the memory of those who have died as a result of crimes. "There's so much crime, and everyone concentrates on the criminals, but we need to remember the victims," she said.

The names of 940 El Paso crime victims lined the walkway at Ascarate Park, and photos of dozens of these victims smiled out from a temporary wall dedicated to them at the event. "It's creating a sense of unity," Erika Esparza, David Esparza's sister, said. "We're all coping." The mood of the event was festive yet somber as those present laughed at memories of their loved ones or choked back tears.

"I'm here for him. My presence for him is all that matters," said Karen Scott, who wore a T-shirt with a photo of her cousin, Gregory Jesus Flores, who was stabbed to death in January 2005, and whose killer has not been caught. Flores' mother, Yolanda Flores, was bolstered by the approximately 25 family members who attended with her to support her and honor her son. "We want justice for my son," Yolanda Flores said. Her brother, Ricardo Flores, stood at her side.

"This is a good event because a lot of people feel left out. We all have gone through something horrific and we're not alone," he said. The feeling was echoed again and again by family and friends of those who died as a result of violence, drunken driving, domestic abuse or other crimes. "It gives you the feeling you're not alone," said Isela Martinez, cousin of Richard Holguin, who died last June after the intoxicated driver of the car he was riding in struck a pole at Castellano Drive.

About the Program

Criminal offenders who have been assigned to probation must complete a designated number of community service hours as part of their conditions of probation.

Hours assigned range from 80 per offender for minor infractions to as many as 1,000 hours for convicted felons.

The West Texas Community Supervision and Corrections Department, also known as adult probation, operates three main programs at 60 sites around the county, usually on Saturdays. The projects include cleaning of Concordia Cemetery, the Graffiti Wipeout program and the Downtown management district -- the cleanup of major streets and alleys Downtown.

Information: Sonia Islas, 533-3434.
Sunday, February 20, 2005

Don't allow situation to get out of hand

Mary Anne Bramblett, judge of the 41st State District Court in El Paso, issued a dire warning recently, a warning that the Legislature should heed.

Bramblett said that unless lawmakers increase funding for probation programs, there will be a "meltdown" of expensive proportions.

Bramblett said in Austin a little over a week ago, "This meltdown will include prison population increases never before imaginable that will result in astronomical amounts of state funds being spent on the building of new prisons."

That could lead right to a discussion of the relative merits of incarceration versus probation. But what's really eye-catching here is the bottom line.

Compare the costs of probation programs with the cost of locking up offenders. The probation, including substance-abuse treatment and counseling, runs 97 cents per day. Incarceration costs $44 per day

That disparity should make lawmakers sit up and take notice, particularly because this legislative session is going to see creative penny-pinching elevated to an art form as officials try to fund everything that needs funding.

Other statistics also argue for a new look at the probation program.

The Texas Probation Association says that each probation officer should have a caseload of 75 offenders, which itself seems higher than it should be.

But El Paso probation officers are struggling under a burden of about 132 cases each. The state average is even worse, 152.

Bramblett, vice chairwoman of the Judiciary Advisory Council, which advises the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, said, "These are not safe numbers. Caseload numbers must come down or judges will be forced to send more people to prison to safeguard yo! ur commu nity."

Yet, in the face of these daunting statistics, the Legislative Budget Board has recommended a $4 million cut. The Texas Probation Association is recommending an increase of $60 million a year to help facilitate caseload reduction.

State legislators have a whole lot of serious matters to consider during this session, and most of them have dollar signs attached to them.

Obviously, there will have to be compromise and painful decisions. There are some things that just have to be fixed and funded; school financing leaps to mind.

But legislators must not lose sight of other programs that need revamping. No one wants the probation situation to turn into another Adult Protective Services debacle that requires huge amounts of money and effort to fix.

Bramblett knows what she's talking about. The Legislature needs to listen.
Borderland Monday, February 14, 2005

More probation money sought

Prison system near 'meltdown,' judge says

Gary Scharrer and Tammy Fonce-Olivas
El Paso Times

AUSTIN -- Texas taxpayers face another round of prison building and a likely "meltdown" of the state's prison system unless lawmakers increase funding for probation programs, an El Paso judge said last week.

"This meltdown will include prison population increases never before imaginable that will result in astronomical amounts of state funds being spent on the building of new prisons," 41st District Judge Mary Anne Bramblett said at a Capitol news conference.

Bramblett is vice chairwoman of the Judiciary Advisory Council, which advises the Texas Board of Criminal Justice.

Probation programs, including substance abuse treatment and counseling, cost 97 cents a day per client, compared with $44 a day for incarceration. Bramblett and other probation experts contend that current caseloads are unmanageable. El Paso probation officers each have about 132 cases, and the state average is 152.

"These are not safe numbers," Bramblett said. "Caseload numbers must come down or judges will be forced to send more people to prison to safeguard your community."

Probation officers should have caseloads of 75 offenders, according to the Texas Probation Association. Texas has about 440,000 people serving probation.

Lawmakers should appropriate an additional $60 million a year to reduce caseloads instead of accepting a $4 million cut recommended by the Legislative Budget Board, said Fred Rangel, president of the Texas Probation Association.

The association also recommends $28.2 million to add 500 beds designed to treat offenders for substance abuse.

Cuts to the West Texas Community Supervision and Corrections Department, the adult probation department in El Paso County, would boost the number of probationers Betty Elizabeth Jacquez has to supervise. More importantly, it could strip Jacquez of some of the tools she uses to try to rehabilitate the 134 probationers she monitors.

"The cuts concern me a great deal because it would make it very difficult to supervise them without these resources," Jacquez said of education, vocational and substance abuse programs. "What treatment are we going to have in place for these individuals?"

Jacquez said the substance abuse treatment and counseling programs are the ones she relies on the most because so many probationers need them. "If they were to take that away, that would seriously hurt us," she said.

About 45 percent of probationers in El Paso, Hudspeth and Culberson counties are on probation because of drug and DWI offenses, said Stephen Enders, executive director of the West Texas Community Supervision and Corrections Department.

To avoid cutting programs intended to rehabilitate probationers, Enders has tried to prepare for possible funding cuts by not filling job vacancies. But he acknowledges that his department can't handle much more loss of manpower because it would mean increasing the caseloads for probation officers.

"I try to advocate for more funding whenever I can. I think people need to know that they can put the money into building more prisons or they can put it in the community supervision and hopefully keep families together," Enders said.

Enders said the majority of people on probation in El Paso successfully complete their sentences. "I wouldn't be in this line of work for 32 years if I didn't believe that people could change," he said.

El Paso offenders last year paid $6.7 million in restitution, probation fees and court costs. They also serve the community by removing graffiti, picking up litter Downtown and participating in other community service programs.

Bramblett said community supervision, also known as "adult probation," should be the preferred sanction for nonviolent criminal offenders.

Most probationers in El Paso County committed offenses involving substance abuse, drunken driving or property crime. About one in five probationers was convicted of crimes against persons, such as robbery, aggravated assault or sexual assault, Enders said.

Probationers who have committed more serious crimes are supervised by probation officers from specialized units. Each probation officer in those units monitors an average of 50 offenders who are mentally impaired, involved in gangs, were convicted of sex crimes, were convicted of child abuse or have serious substance abuse problems.

The smaller caseloads for probation officers in the specialized units allow them to work more closely with probationers who have been convicted of serious crimes, Enders said.

The probationers of the special units must report to their probation officers more frequently than other probationers. Most regular probationers must report once a month.

Adult probation is the only part of the criminal justice system "that really works," Bramblett said. "And it could work so much better with adequate caseloads, resources and facilities. It is up to the Legislature to prevent this meltdown," she said.

House Corrections Chairman Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, said he agreed with Bramblett and others in the call for more state funding for adult probation programs.

"I think the recommendations will be fairly highly received, knowing, however, that we have that thousand-pound gorilla over our heads called 'school finance,' " Madden said.

Texas spent about $2.3 billion to build prisons in the 1990s, increasing the capacity from fewer than 50,000 beds to 154,000 today. The state's current prison population is about 150,000.

In El Paso, about 35 percent of felony probationers foul up and land in prison. "The majority of them are successful while on probation, but if you don't have the alternatives, if you don't have the counseling, the treatment, the sanctions, then they could end up" back in prison, Bramblett said.

Gary Scharrer may be reached at gscharrer@ elpasotimes.com (512) 479-6606.; Tammy Fonce-Olivas may be reached at tfonce@elpasotimes.com; 546-6362.; For more information: www.epcounty.com/wtc/
Opinion Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Letters

Agency's progress threatened by cuts

The story on the adult probation department gave insight into this important but beleaguered agency, which is struggling with budget cuts, large caseloads and public misconception.

I have worked with this department since 1985, and many of its officers are outstanding. Their commitment to turn offenders around, set them on the right path and keep them there, when too many are determined to self-destruct, is remarkable.

There are several who deserve special recognition for their work with mentally ill offenders. Catherine Bachtold is a dedicated professional who is receptive to new ideas and who has the patience of a saint with difficult "clients." Maggie Morales-Aina voluntarily teaches a parenting class for female jail inmates ! and has facilitated therapy groups for at-risk children o! f probationers.

Under the able leadership of Stephen Enders and Deborah King, and with the support of Judge Mary Anne Bramblett, the department has earned statewide respect. This makes the political shenanigans in Austin -- the wanton axing of programs and people -- all the more outrageous.

A fine department is in peril of being hurled back into the Dark Ages, just as offenders who could be better habilitated in the community are in peril of being hurled into overcrowded prisons.

Karen Gold
Central El Paso
Students in LEAPS consider other types of law enforcement

Thursday, March 27, 2003
Adriana M. Chávez El Paso Times
Photos by Victor Calzada / El Paso Times

El Paso Police Detective Mike Aman spoke to Job Corps students about terrorism Wednesday. LEAPS provides training for law-enforcement jobs. Job Corps student Ronald Pelech examines an example of a suspicious package. Students in the LEAPS program learn about support roles, such as accounting or language specialists, for law-enforcement agencies. Victor Calzada / El Paso Times Salvador Ramirez of the U.S. Customs answered a question from Joaquin Martinez.

Agencies involved with the LEAPS To Success Law Enforcement And Public Service program include:
- FBI. · Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
- U.S. Border Patrol.
- El Paso Community College.
- Federal Bureau of Prisons.
- El Paso Fire Department.
- El Paso Police Department.
- Texas Department of Public Safety.
- David L. Carrasco Job Corps Center.
- Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
- West Texas Community Supervision and Corrections Department.
- Juvenile Probation Department.
- Texas A&M Colonias Program.
- IRS/Criminal Investigations.
- El Paso County Sheriff's Department.
- University of Texas at El Paso Police Department.
- U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
- Environment Protection Agency.

Information on the LEAPS program: 594-0022.

Rosy Perez wants a career in law enforcement, but not as an officer or an agent, as most people would expect. She wants to become an FBI accountant. Perez, 22, a student at the David L. Carrasco Job Corps Center, is one of almost 100 students involved in the LEAPS To Success Law Enforcement And Public Service program. It was started last year by Luis A. Arias, a supervisory intelligence research specialist for the FBI, and Lt. Ray Rodriguez of the El Paso Police Department's Pebble Hills Regional Command Center. Arias got the idea for the program during a flight home from Quantico, Va., in March 2002. "Not everybody who works for the police department is an officer," Arias said. "There are various positions in agencies, and we want to bring to the students the various opportunities that may exist, such as computer specialists or language specialists."

The program started in October with five agencies:
- El Paso Police Department,
- El Paso Fire Department,
- U.S. Border Patrol,
- Department of Public Safety and the FBI.

Participation has ballooned to about 20 agencies, including the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the U.S. Postal Investigation Service and the El Paso County Sheriff's Department. Officials say LEAPS has received positive feedback from students. "Of course, some of them are more interested in one specific agency, but the whole purpose is to get interest and also to educate them to the fact that not everybody that works for the FBI is an agent. They also have clerks, cooks and mechanics," said Francisco "Paco" Sanchez, the counseling and career development supervisor with the job corps. "Since we have those trades at the center, we want for them to think along those lines and hopefully follow on." Although there are a variety of agencies available to give the weekly presentations to job corps students, Rodriguez said communication between the agencies is relatively smooth. "It's not just about the police department, and it's not just about the FBI; it's everybody," Rodriguez said. "Our main mission is for the kids and the community." Perez said she's been attending the weekly presentations since October, and is pleased with what she has learned. "If you put your mind to it, you can get there," Perez said. "They make it seem like it's a regular job that you like.

It's a great program." Students are not only taught in a classroom, but are taken on occasional field trips to courthouses, detention centers and agency headquarters and field offices. Carla Corbett, 18, has been attending the program for about a month, and said she would like to become a psychiatrist for a government agency like the FBI. "It's looking at other aspects of law enforcement," Corbett said about LEAPS. "It's educational, and we do interesting things, like when we went out to the fire station Downtown." LEAPS organizers say their long-term goal is to allow students who enroll in the program to earn credit for law enforcement-related degree programs at El Paso Community College. "What it allows for is the opportunity for (job corps) students to get a wide range of different law-enforcement and public-service programs offered in the El Paso community," said Arvis Jones, a counselor at EPCC. "We're trying to develop credit programs for job corps students, so they can transition into EPCC and receive credit." Arias and Rodriguez say they hope the program will expand and one day be available to high-school students, and include more agencies. "The momentum is very strong," Arias said. "I had never expected it to grow this fast that quickly."