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Parenting classes for parolees help break cycle of crime

By: Heidi Zhou, Reporter
Austin News 8 (TXTV)
February 22, 2009, 8:19 PM

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Danny Aguilar got his kids' names tattooed on his neck so he can be close in spirit, if not in person.

"I haven't seen them in a year. It drives me crazy everyday," he said.

Serving two years probation for burglary, Aguilar's drinking problem is just another factor that helped him lose custody of his children. The kids live with their mother.

"I got backed up on child support and really didn't help her with the kids. I just really turned into a dead beat father," Aguilar said.

Aguilar has been on his own since he was 13. He said he was about to make the same mistake his father did when the law stepped in.

"I knew that I wasn't bettering myself, so I figured maybe I'd get that extra kick in the butt that probation is going to give me," Aguilar said.

News 8's Heidi Zhou tells us about the lives one program is already changing.

The punishment would put Aguilar on the right track to becoming a better father.

"I order all of my probationers to be good parents and it occurred to me I'm ordering them to do something that they don't know how to be because they haven't had a role model," Judge Charlie Baird, who oversees the 299th State District Court, said.

Baird ordered Aguilar and eight other parolees to return to his courtroom for six weeks of parenting classes. There, the young men learn from experts, like Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe.

"I'd let them know how you got into trouble, how you could have avoided it and the fact you want to avoid getting into trouble again," Biscoe said.

Aguilar said he hopes to see his kids again by April. When that time comes, he'll be ready for a second chance to be the father he never had.

"I hope to be a father they can depend on, a stable father, totally what I'm not right now, and just show them there's two different roads you can take---a right one and a wrong one. I'm here to guide you," Aguilar said.

Baird's parenting classes are funded by money left over from his campaign and the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. The six sessions are put on with the help of local nonprofit Family Connections.

Baird said he hopes the county sees the success of this year's pilot program and will provide funding to expand the classes to more parolees.