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by Peter Moskos

July 14, 2008

Bad Person. Bad Judge.

Too many people refuse to believe that there are some truly bad people out there. Some people are just bad. Police know this. Judges don't.

Is it unfair to throw someone in prison for a long time for a technical violation of parole? Maybe. Maybe not. Depends on the person.

Just because you can't convict a person doesn't mean he's not guilty. That's when using probation and parole violations become so important.

There's an attempt in Baltimore to crack down on 960 of the most violent people in Baltimore. This is exactly the kind of plan that has worked with great success in other cities to dramatically reduce violence (google: "Boston Miracle). There's a story in today's Baltimore Sun about a bad man, Jerrod Rowlett.

On one hand (the wrong hand) you could see this man as a victim now being locked up for a crime he wasn't convicted of. On the other hand, the correct hand, this is a bad and violent man who can't be convicted because his victims are too terrified to testify about his violent and drug-dealing ways. It's bad that Rowlett shot anybody. But his last shooting is a preventable shame that should (but probably doesn't) rest on the conscience of Judge Stewart's.
Jerrod Rowlett... racked up a dozen criminal charges at a young age and earned such a street reputation that Bealefeld [the police commissioner] knows him by name.
Rowlett's first arrest came when he was 16 and accused of first-degree murder, but he was found not guilty. The next year he was convicted of carrying a handgun, but the five-year sentence was suspended. He was found guilty of assault in 2005 and got another five-year suspended sentence.

In April 2006 city police raided a drug corner and charged him with dealing heroin. He made bail, and the following January a witness said Rowlett shot another man
Rowlett pleaded guilty in both cases.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Lynn Stewart signed off on a plea deal that suspended the 15-year prison term, allowing him to walk away with only the time he had served while waiting for the deal, and five years' probation. This earned him a place on the state's year-old worst-offenders list.

The judge in Rowlett's case, who had agreed to the plea agreement, had stern words at his August hearing. "The court will work with you," Stewart told him. "But make no doubt about it, sir. If you violate the probation, you're going to be gone for a long time. Do you understand?"

Looking down, he mumbled "Yes."

In April, police arrested Rowlett again on a gun charge, and probation agents jumped at the chance to send him to prison. Prosecutors dropped the charges when the victim, a family member, recanted the story, but the probation agents still sought a violation.

Since Rowlett was in the target program, a state probation agent asked Stewart to imprison him anyway by issuing a "no bail" warrant, saying Rowlett failed to tell his agent about the arrest. Stewart declined to issue the warrant on May 7.

Twenty days later, Rowlett became a suspect in a midday shooting in Northeast Baltimore. He's now charged with attempted first-degree murder for the fourth time in his life, and he is off the streets - being held without bail until his trial.

May he stay off the streets. This is one guy I'm willing to pay for to keep locked up and far away from me.

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