Judge Charlie Baird: It takes a community to prevent a criminal
by MAC OVERTON
Oct 21, 2012 | 1626 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
JUDGE CHARLIE BAIRD
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Queen Yam LXXV Paige Linder was late in arriving for the All Service Club Luncheon Thursday, a major early event in the East Texas Yamboree in Gilmer.

She had won first place for her show animals in two categories of pigs at the Swine Show section of the Yamboree livestock events. One pig won her the Grand Champion belt buckle for the event.

Her two pigs included a 263-pounder which took first in Class 9 (pigs weighting 262 to 269 pounds) and another weighing 272 pounds in Class 10.

Having been officially crowned as Queen Yam in ceremonies the night before, Queen Paige wore her crown and cowboy boots as she proudly showed her swine.

It was the seventh year for her to compete in the Swine Show.

In brief remarks to the audience of about 450, she told of the meaning of the Yamboree to her family throughout the years.

Retired Judge Charlie Baird, a Gilmer native, was keynote speaker for the 75th Yamboree All Service Club Luncheon Thursday.

He told of the meaning of the Yamboree in his own family (his parents were the late Jack F. “Spot” and Mary Lee Baird, who were heavily involved in the Yamboree virtually from its inception), and to others.

He said “it all boils down to one thing—service to one another and service to the community.”

He said as his mother was in the last months of her life, talking about the Yamboree created a “spark in her eyes.”

Judge Baird’s main topic, other than emphasizing the meaning of the Yamboree as a homecoming to all Gilmerites, was problems he’s seen in his career as a judge at various levels of the Texas criminal justice system, and what he sees as some down-to-earth solutions, which tied in with his theme of service.

He pointed out that Texas has 114 prison units, with more than 156,000 inmates, the highest in the nation, and an incarceration rate of 803 per 10,000, second highest behind neighboring Louisiana.

The judge cited costs of incarceration at $49.40 per inmate per day, or $18,031 per year. The national rate is $24,656 per year.

In contrast, he said, it costs $3.51 per day to keep someone on parole, or $1,281 per year.

The average sentence length is 15.4 years.

He termed prison “the most expensive form of public housing.”

“From 1986 until 2000, Texas increased its budget for higher education by 47 percent, and its budget for prisons by 346 percent,” he said.

Last year, education and indigent care were two areas which took hard hits from state budget cuts.

“Everyone here, no matter how liberal he or she might be, wants to be safe from crime,” Baird said. “And unfortunately, our society has individuals who are violent, dangerous, who harm children and who are incorrigible; clearly those individuals must be incapacitated and removed from society

“There is no question that it is wise public policy to incarcerate and punish people we are afraid of,” he said.

However, he said that his 32 years of experience indicates to him that those who are struggling with drug addiction, alcoholism, mental illness, emotional issues and poverty “are not the people who commit violent crimes.”

He said that often, those incarcerated are not those we have reason to fear, but “those we are mad at.”

He detailed the statistics showing large numbers of inmates, both male and female, had suffered sexual and other physical and psychological abuse prior to committing the crimes for which they were imprisoned.

A majority are poor and were raised in poverty, often in a single-parent home.

The average IQ for inmates is 78, he said. The median educational level achieved is 6th grade.

Baird, who became known for his compassion on the bench, told of how heart-wrenching it was to realize that he had sentenced some innocent people to prison—the evidence used to convict them, no matter what type, was later proven wrong.

Judge Baird said that his “crowning achievement as a judge” was his exoneration, posthumously, of Tim Cole, who spent 25 years in prison for a sexual-assault crime he did not commit. Cole died of an asthma attack while in prison.

Despite DNA testing which cleared Cole, and other man in prison on other charges confessing to the crime, “there was not a judge in Lubbock County who would step forward and say, ‘We made a mistake.’ ”

Baird agreed to hold a hearing on the case in his court in Travis County (Austin), which led to the first posthumous exoneration in Texas history. Gov. Rick Perry pardoned the deceased Cole.

Drawing on his theme of service tied to the Yamboree, Baird urged as a partial solution community and individual involvement in the lives of those headed the wrong way in life, or who may have made a nonviolent mistake and served time.

“We, as a society, need to help them find their way,” he said. “Just like everyone else, they should have a chance to live a productive life, to pursue their dreams to raise their children.”

He said that, once released from prison, the average felon works an average of seven months a year and earns $6,000 to $10,000 annually.

“That is below the poverty level. What kind of a life is that?” he asked.

He said his experience on the bench and research showed that there is a “generational cycle of criminality”—most defendants he saw had parent in the criminal justice center.

Judge Baird said the odds of an inmate’s child going to prison is “six times greater than the average child in Texas.”

“What can you do” to break the cycle? he asked.

He offered six steps toward a solution:

1. Hire someone who has been in trouble and truly wants a new start.

2. Hire a student you suspect may be headed down the wrong path and “mentor him or her. Lead by example and show that young person what a law-abidig life has to offer.”

3. Teach someone to read—have them make use of the local Literacy Program, affiliated with the Upshur County Library.

4. Contribute time, money and material to charitable causes, especially those benefitting children in poverty, “to help them help themselves out of poverty.”

5. “Be a Big Brother or Big Sister—you ae the leaders of this community. You are respected and admired. Be a role model for someone who does not have one.”

6. “Encourage, acknowledge and love the least among us.” Let them know you truly care about them. In the words of Jesus, “What you do for the least among us, you do unto me.”

“That is service to your fellow man and your community,” the judge concluded. “That is service to your fellow man and your community,” the judge concludede. “And, as is true with all service, the person who derives the most benefit is you.”
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