The Pine Needle (Silsbee , Tex.), Vol. 5, No. 4, Ed. 1 Thursday, January 25, 1968 Page: 4 of 8
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by Keith /. Leenhout*
He was so alone. So terribly alone.
He was 17 years old and charged with
a serious crime—a felony—armed rob-
The preliminary hearing before the
lower court was over and he was being
sent to the higher courts for trial—for
conviction—for sentencing—possibly a
life sentence to prison, the maximum
The youth was alone not just in the
courtroom. “Where are your parents?”
we asked. “My mother is dead and my
father deserted me shortly after her
funeral seven years ago,” he replied.
When asked where he had been living
he said, “With an aunt and uncle for
a while but they were divorced and
neither one wanted me. I then lived
with a grandmother for a while but she
died. I have been living here and there
since then—often in cars.”
Of course the lower court could do
nothing about this boy—the crime was
too serious for a court with a maximum
jail term of 90 days.
However, like some 80 to 90 percent
of all persons committing a felony, he
had first committed a misdemeanor, a
less serious crime, and had appeared
before a lower court judge, usually
called a municipal judge or justice of
Here was society’s great opportunity
to change the defendant, to change his
attitude and behavioral concepts, to pre-
vent the serious crime he was destined
to commit, to rehabilitate the defendant
—to make him whole once again.
Community Responds to Challenge
How did we—and do we—respond to
this tremendous challenge, this glorious
opportunity, this last chance to save a
life and protect society from the dan-
gers of serious criminal acts?
We did—and in some 90 to 95 per-
cent of all of the misdemeanor cases—
do nothing. Nothing at all was done
unless we kid ourselves into thinking
that a judge looking at the defendant
for a second or two and then sentenc-
ing him to pay a fine and go to jail is
This is not to say that we do not
sometimes have spoiled brats come to
court who should be jailed. We do.
But using jail and fines all of the time
regardless of what the problem is—
regardless of what the solution is—is as
unrealistic as using psychiatry or mar-
riage counseling or Alcoholics Anony-
mous or professional counseling in
each case that comes !>efore us. None
of these is the solution for each case,
nor is blind and unreasoned punish-
ment the answer.
The simple truth of the matter is
that we deal with highly individual-
ized, complex, complicated problems.
There is no one technique, including
jail, that will solve all of these prob-
We must start doing what we are
not doing now—study each case care-
fully and then use one or more of some
10 to 15 rehabilitative techniques, in-
cluding jail, which-can be rehabilita-
tive in some cases, to change the de-
fendent and to accomplish the ultimate
goal of the court which is to protect
To accomplish this we need pre-
sentence investigations including psy-
chiatric evaluations and psychological
testings, professional counseling, mar-
riage counseling, employment counsel-
ing and a teen-age school on the effects
of alcohol. We need a system wherein
young, worthy first offenders can re-
ceive a hard-earned dismissal of the
charges with the resulting dignity, pride
and self-respect we get when we set for
ourselves a worthwhile goal and achieve
We also need an Alcoholic’s Anony-
mous program, individual psychiatric
treatment, group psychotherapy, group
counseling, a church referral program,
a women’s division of the probation de-
partment, cooperating medical doctors,
optometrists and lawyers, voluntary
financial contributors and proper ad-
ministration, in our case by retired
More than any other one thing we
need volunteer counselors or sponsors to
act as a friend to the young defendant.
1 he kind of service we need costs
money. In the city of Royal Oak,
Mich., we need $300,000 in rehabilita-
tive probation services for our popula-
tion of 95,000 people.
Lower courts, of course, do not have
that kind of money. They are lucky to
have sufficient money for the mini- '
mum court functions. To ask for $300,-
000 a year for probation departments is
out of the question.
Time,'Talent, Money and Concern
So what do we do? Three things are
First, we can do nothing. Some 90
percent of the lower courts are doing
this. The ever increasing crime rate
shows us the futility of this action.
Second, we can wait for someone to
give us the money. We will wait in
But the third possibility is exciting.
We can go to our citizens and they will
respond gloriously. From the psychia-
trist (no group has given more willing-
ly) to the public school janitor, from
the skilled professional to the un-
trained decent human being, persons
will give themselves freely, warmly
and without thought of monetary gain.
The court can then succeed in its diffi-
cult, frustrating, heartbreaking, yet
infinitely rewarding, process of the re-
habilitation, reeducation and inspira-
tion of this criminal in our society.
How they have given! Some 500 «
citizens of Royal Oak have given of
Based on people’s willingness to help
others stay out of serious crime, Project
Misdemeanant has won a national cita-
tion for the Board of Christian Social
The two-year-old effort to rehabilitate
young lawbreakers through volunteer
cooperation with the “lower courts” was
cited in the Lane Bryant Annual Awards
program for volunteer service in the com-
Project Misdemeanant had its start
in Royal Oak, Mich., where Keith J.
Leenhouts, municipal judge, was frus-
trated by what little the court could do
for young and new offenders. When he
found that almost none of America’s
lower courts—where such lawbreakers
first appear—had any kind of probation
programs, he led in developing an effort
their time, talents, money and interest
in a great outpouring of Jewish-Chris-
tian dedication, concern and warmth.
And they have been effective! Out
of the some 2,000 probationers over the
last eight years, more than 90 percent
have not committed a second offense in
Royal Oak. Seventy percent is general-
ly conceded to be a good result by the
Less than 1 percent of the probation-
ers have gone on to commit a felony as
compared to the national average of
about 3 percent. Thus, some 42 felonies
have been prevented. More important
yet, perhaps, is our honest conviction
that some 10, percent have had a com-
plete change in attitude and behavior.
To completely change the life of
some 200 criminal offenders, to control
some 1,800 offenders, many of them
through the critical ages of the late
teens and early 20s, and to have 42 less
felonies than the national average is
something to be proud of indeed.
The credit goes to the 500 citizens
that have harnessed the tremendous
power of their Jewish-Christian faith
to deal with the prodigal sons who ap-
pear in the criminal courts.
The greatest single, rehabilitative
technique we have is the volunteer.
For example, there is the volunteer
insurance agent who changed the entire
life of a young man who, we feel cer-
tain, was rushing headlong into a life
of serious crime. By the sheer dint of
his inspiring personality, Christian con-
cern and dedication, the insurance
man’s friendship completely changed
the life of this young offender.
The young housewife helped a fe-
male probationer in an emergency sit-
uation at a hospital until the woman
broke down and cried, “You really do
care—you really do care.”
A volunteer psychologist took a
group of our most serious eight of-
fenders and guided them through a
crime-free year. The psychologist gave
these persons new insights into and
controls over their problems. A minister
completely changed a character dis-
order in a person lacking in impulse
control, by his friendship and concern.
Many more examples could be given.
What About Your Community?
In October, 1965, a fine thing hap-
pened. The Board of Christian Social
Concerns appropriated $24,000 to
spread the idea of the use of the volun-
teer in such programs throughout the
United States. Last April, after IS
months, 30 courts had started similar
rehabilitative probation programs. Fif-
teen courts were in the process of so
doing and another 67 had at least taken
some steps in that direction.
Perhaps the most exciting of these 3C
courts is Denver, Colo. Under the di-
rection of capable and sensitive Judge
William Burnett, many volunteers are
being used and great things are hap-
pening. We believe that some 100
courts will have similar programs by
PAGE FOUR THE PINE NEEDLE
One judge’s enthusiasm for rehabilitating juvenile offenders
has spread to the whole community.
The result—90 percent of the probationers have not
committed a second offense.
JANUARY 25, 1968
that used community volunteer sponsors.
When Judge Leenhouts, a Methodist
layman, was'elected a member of the na-
tional Methodist board in 1964, its De-
partment of Social Welfare liked the
approach and backed if with funds, pub-
licity and consultation aid.
Unlike many denominational pro-
grams, this one has not proceeded
through the usual channels from board
to conference to local church. Rather, it
has focused on the national board’s re-
lationship with the court structure, pri-
marily through the North American
Judges Association. ,
Once judges and other local court offi-
cials are convinced of the possibilities,
the board works through churches to
encourage understanding of the program
and search for volunteers.
How does Project Misdemeanant
spread the idea? With free films, litera-
ture and speakers, Project Misdemean-
ant will go to any community to assist
them in starting similar programs.
Inquiries can be directed to Judge
Keith J. Leenhouts, City Hall, Royal
Oak, Mich. 48067. We will help you
in any way you feel is appropriate.
We are satisfied with the truth of
the old saying, “All that is necessary for
evil to prevail is for men of good will to
do nothing.” We are also satisfied that
good shall prevail if men of good will
act. Men and women of good will are
starting to act in at least 30 courts in
Whether you start out of a complete
vacuum without any Probation De-
partment at all (as did Royal Oak) or
if you use volunteers to supplement an
existing professional probation depart-
ment (as was done in Denver), volun-
teers will serve the court well. Inas-
much as none of us can hire the job
done, we must look for volunteers.
The volunteer, with proper guidance
and direction, is the most effective
single tool of rehabilitation.
There is an old Chinese proverb that
says, “It is better to light a single candle
than to curse the darkness." We are all
very good at cursing the darkness but it
does little good.
Why not light a candle in the heart
of a young offender? When we do, the
light will shine in the hearts and lives
of our prodigal sons. The path to a new
life will be lighted and they shall walk
with dignity, pride and self-respect to
the honor of themselves, society and
God. We shall be proud of them and,
more important, they shall be proud of
Mr. Leenhouts is judge of Municipal Court
in Royal Oak, Mich. He is a Methodist lay-
man and a member of the Board of Chris-
tian Social Concerns.
Recent visitors in the Big Thi-
cket were Dr. and Mrs. Richard
C. Smith and son Chuck from
Hidalgo, Mexico. Dr. Smith,
an amateur ornithologist, is
well-known for his social work
in mining communities in Am-
erica and Europe and as an au-
thor of books on this subject.
He is at present a missionary for
the Presbyterian Church.
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Barrington, Peggy. The Pine Needle (Silsbee , Tex.), Vol. 5, No. 4, Ed. 1 Thursday, January 25, 1968, newspaper, January 25, 1968; Silsbee, Texas. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth662616/m1/4/: accessed July 3, 2020), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Lamar University.