Judge John Creuzot Leaving the Bench. Let's Hope Someone Else Keeps His Work Going.

Stunned and disappointed to learn this morning that Dallas felony court Judge John C. Creuzot will leave to go into private practice after two decades on the bench. In terms of the law and courts -- hell, in terms of government itself -- Creuzot is a great example of what goes right.

Citing financial need, Creuzot has announced he will retire at the end of the year after 21 years on the criminal bench, where he has been a pioneer in diversion programs and other innovative efforts.

Efforts at what? Efforts at getting people to stop committing crimes. Isn't that at least an important part of what we want to do?

We're not going to take everybody who breaks into a car, line them all up against a wall and shoot them, much as we might like to if we happen to be the car-owner. So even if we do want to lock them up to punish their asses, don't we also need to find a way to get them to stop being fools and assholes when they get out?

That's where Creuzot has concentrated his most imaginative and effective work with so-called diversion, working with county probation professionals to find ways other than prison to get people to straighten up. None of which is easy. I talked to him about it this morning.

"Diversion is more than just a word," he said. "Diversion is a concept. It's a process. It's what we do here. We start off with clinical assessments and mental health assessments if necessary. We take a holistic approach."

Don't be put off by his use of the word, "holistic." If you're like me, you may have a subconscious tendency to associate that with Whole Foods. In Creuzot's usage, it's more like, "We own your ass, and, by the way, we do not trust you. Yet."

"It's very structured," he said. "There's a lot of accountability. We try to take away their free time that's otherwise spent hanging out."

Take it way how? Just take it away, take it all away. That's how.

"We put them in either inpatient or outpatient treatment. We monitor them."

Monitor how? He means seriously monitor.

"We monitor their drug usage by urine, hair, saliva whatever. We use patches. We use bracelets that will monitor alcohol usage. Then we have a system of responses for that. "Of course the most important response would be treatment response, not a jail response. We use graduated sanctions. We start off by talking. We go up from more counseling to maybe inpatient counseling and sometimes short periods of incarceration."

Treatment? What treatment? The whole universe of treatment and private corrections is rife with programs that are nothing but rip-off bullshit. For that very reason, Creuzot says he and the probation professionals pay particular attention.

"What's important is the treatment program itself. What is the treatment program? What are you actually delivering, and how are you delivering it? If you are just telling them to read the newspaper every day, that's not a treatment program. You know what I'm saying?"

So in the back of my mind, I have always wanted to ask Judge Creuzot one thing. Does he believe in diversion because he does not believe in prison? I asked him this morning. Nope. He says prison can work, too.

"I've had people come back and thank me for sending them to the penitentiary," he said. "They said it's what they needed."

So what's the answer? Diversion works. Prison works. Sometimes. Why we can't we do one or the other? I think what Creuzot's work reveals is that life is complicated.

Maybe you think that bad guy down the block needs to be sent to the pen. But you think it would be a tragedy for your own brother to get sent there, even if the two of them did the same crime. Together.

And maybe you're exactly wrong. Maybe the only way to save your brother is five years in state. Maybe the only way to save the guy down the block is treatment.

That's where and why we need to have really smart committed professionals in the system, people who know the ground and have some experience on which to base these tough judgment calls. It's why we need that kind of person in government.

It's a cop-out, a self-defeat, a dereliction of civic duty to get too cynical about it. Just because some of it may not work, we can't afford to just throw up our hands and say none of it works, ever.

Oh, anyway, I just hate to see a guy like Creuzot leaving the bench and leaving government. He'll do great on the outside. In fact, just knowing that I could hire him as my criminal attorney, I might be more tempted now to go out and commit some crimes.

Fortunately as a young man I found my way into my own excellent diversion program. It's called journalism. I need to ask Creuzot if they've ever tried journalism careers on these guys who keep breaking into cars. Especially nowadays with blogging, it seems like a shorter hop.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze