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Chaplain Describes Jails’ Treatment of Families

Aug 8th, 2018 | Category: Featured Articles

Deacon Bob Liebrecht spoke before the Jail Commission during public input at the quarterly meeting, August 2nd, 2018:
“My name is Bob Leibrecht and I am a Catholic deacon at St Thomas Apostle in Canyon Lake. I am director of Criminal Justice Ministry for Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio. Prior to this ministry, I was a Petroleum Engineer for 28 years.

“First of all, thanks for allowing me to speak to you today. I have been ministering in TDCJ and Texas County jails for over 18 years. Besides 5 TDCJ facilities, I currently minister in Bexar, Comal and Guadalupe County jails. Previously, I ministered in Midland, in the Tom Green and Taylor county jails in the San Angelo diocese. I am now working with the Archdiocese on a new reentry program for county jails called the Crucible Program.

“In my many years in ministry, I have seen some improvements in terms of openness toward religious volunteers at the county level, but it varies greatly from county to county, since each sheriff establishes his own rules. Some are supportive, while others use the word NO exclusively, as they see no real benefits of the ministry and don’t want to be bothered. There is little to no focus on rehabilitation in the county system with a prevailing attitude to lock them up and throw away the key, as there is no expectation that this population could change. Luke 1:37 says ‘For nothing will be impossible with God.’

“A majority of inmates in county jails are dealing with trauma and were never taught about authority so coming to the county jail adds to their dysfunctional behavior. I would guess that the jail correctional staff have little to no training on how to deal with this population so that adds to the problem. Also, the jail staff in many cases are not welcoming to religious ministers. This may occur because many sheriffs don’t promote the positive aspects of ministry, and if it is not important to the sheriff, it can become a task which is burdensome to staff. Without an openness to religious volunteers, we are supporting a self-fulfilling prophecy that change can’t occur. Is this what we want? Our goal in ministry is to bring HOPE to the offenders which can lead to a greater sense of peace in the jail in terms of their interaction with staff and between inmates. This can make the duties of jailers easier, reducing stress and making the work place safer.

“From my years of ministry in the county jails, I believe many in the criminal justice system have the attitude that offenders are guilty until proven innocent (as opposed to what the justice system is supposed to say).

“One of my duties is to work with families having a loved one in jail. In many cases, families suffer even greater than those in jail. They are not incarcerated, but are still doing time. We have established several support groups at churches for families of the incarcerated in San Antonio and surrounding counties to support them during this great time of need. At two county jails, the sheriffs have been uncooperative in allowing flyers to be posted in the jail visitation area to let family members visiting their loved ones know about this community spiritual support for them. It appears that the sheriff and local staff have little concern for families of those incarcerated and the important role they play. These sheriffs seem to forget they are elected by those in their community, who may have a loved one in their jail. I hear it said many times by families that feel like they are being treated as though they have committed a crime, as well. I realize that public safety is top priority for the county jails, but families can and should be treated with respect. Each of us were created in God’s image and likeness.

“In most of the smaller county jails there is almost nothing to help the offenders. The focus is only to keep them under the thumb of the system until they are sentenced and sent to TDCJ or released back into their communities. A Crucible Reentry Program is planned for the smaller Kendall County jail in Boerne in the fall 2018 to assist in providing a foundation for reentry and transition with local community support. If this is successful, it could be expanded to other county jails.

“I believe the Jail Commission needs to provide more outreach and encouragement to the county jails and training of staff to better understand those in their jail and focus on offender rehabilitation through volunteer religious programs.

“Thanks for listening and considering my concerns.”

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Ti Sa
4 years ago

Well said and unfortunately how true. Our loved one has been in and out of the Harris County Jail and in TDCJ twice. I repeatedly attempted to get the prosecutors and the judges to consider the inmate’s mental health problems And the lack of emotional maturity stemming from childhood victimization and abuse. Finally, after hiring a lawyer, they considered the mental health issues and sent our loved one to a 6 program as part of probation requirements. However, the probation given was 10 years vs 10 years TDC. The offer was accepted due to hoping to be out of jail before delivery of her baby, so family could be present (didn’t happen). In the Harris County Corrections Dept program, she has been there almost 2 months and still has not seen a mental health doctor or received her mh meds.

3 years ago

I love this guy. How true that the importance of ministry from chaplains and family members is often devalued when it should be nurtured. I have seen the very atmosphere of the Cameron County Jail change in the past 19 years and the factors involved were minimal and cost the county nothing.