Monday, May 22, 2017

Federal judges lend helping hand to ex-cons

Federal Judge Sara L. Ellis, from left, Judge Susan E. Cox and Jennifer Colanese, a U.S. probation officer, review cases at a meeting of the intensive supervised re-entry program run by the U.S. District Court in Chicago. The program is designed to help ex-cons stay out of prison. 

     “How do you deal with life when it’s going well?” asked Judge Sara L. Ellis, airing the dilemma of one ex-con adapting to life on the outside. “There was a reduction in the chaos of his life that made him very uncomfortable.”
     She was addressing three fellow federal judges — Susan E. Cox, Sidney Schenkier and Chief Judge Ruben Castillo — plus three probation officers, two assistant U.S. attorneys, two federal defenders, and one drug treatment specialist.
     It was 9 a.m. Thursday. The group sat around a long table in Castillo’s spacious chambers on the 25th floor of the Dirksen Federal Building. The beginning of an extraordinary morning where, every two weeks, the vast, overcrowded, harried, understaffed, often-indifferent, reflexively punitive American legal system pauses for a few hours to turn careful attention to, on this day, 11 long-incarcerated ex-cons — armed robbers, drug dealers — who put their post-prison lives under the supervision of four federal judges.
     The group trades mundane minutia of fractured lives coming together.
     “But he has been writing his poetry . . . .”
     “Have him attend 30 meetings in 30 days . . . .”
     “He did attend counseling this month, group and individual . . . .”
     “He was supposed to meet with me, but didn’t show . . . .”

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  1. Nice column. I couldn't help myself: the first thing I did was check the photo to see if any judges were sneaking a peek at their cell phone. Nope....a good sign. :)


  2. As I read the column, the thought kept running through my head: I would hate to be scrutinized like this, to have to explain every mistake, to have my pitiful life in constant review by superiors who share so little of my personal experiences and emotions.

    I admire the judges who are willing to devote their time and energies to try to save a few humans from the degradation of crime and poverty, but I fully understand why so few of those humans seek out their services.


  3. in the federal courts often times the parolees have spent many years in prison. the sentences meted out for federal crimes are onerous. the judges jobs are taxing .im surprised any of them are willing to take on this extra responsibility..the public defenders at least are not as bludgeoned as at the county level. the federal system is set up differently and includes private practice attorneys that rotate in temporarily called panel attorneys. information about this system can be found on the united states courts web site under defender services. really interesting stuff.. one of the true heres in my life is judge Joan Lefkow her courage and fortitude are an inspiration to me .


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