Sentence to learn English compassionate
The Times Leader
March 30, 2008


Anyone who is getting all worked up over Judge Peter Paul Olszewski’s sentencing of four criminals last Tuesday just doesn’t get it.

Olszewski sentenced the four resident aliens to learn the English language or go to jail.

These men, ages 17 to 22, had pleaded guilty to criminal conspiracy to commit robbery – in a drug-related incident, I should add. And, one of the four was already serving time on a drug charge.

None of the four speaks English; all of them needed translators to communicate with the judge at the sentencing hearing. That’s more money from you and me.

One of the four had hit another person over the head with a rawhide bone. Another reached for a gun during this incident.

Olszewski sentenced them each to four to 24 months in the county jail, but allowed three of them to go free on parole because they have already served four months. To keep them from serving the full two years in prison, the judge ordered them to learn to read and write the English language, to obtain their high-school equivalency diplomas and to get a job.

Some call this creative sentencing. Some call it controversial. Some call it unfair and some even say it is unconstitutional.

I call it compassionate.

Those who are critical of Olszewski’s sentence believe it is un-American to force someone – through the courts – to learn the English language. They argue that it is not the official language of the United States. Which it isn’t. That’s another story.

But the moral of this story is not about the burning issue of people who enter our fine country and refuse to learn our language while expecting schools and businesses to learn theirs.

This story is about the American criminal justice system and why it is so important to all of us. Its goal is to punish the offenders and protect the rest of us.

Judge struck balance

Olszewski’s courtroom is not a social services agency. There are plenty of agencies throughout the county which would have welcomed these four immigrants with open arms. They could have gone to one of these organizations or churches for free English lessons. They could have sought help in finding a job.

But, they didn’t. They chose a path of crime.

Olszewski’s courtroom is our courtroom. It’s a place that law-abiding citizens count on as a hall of justice. We want to know that the victim of a crime is top priority. We want to know that a judge will make a decision that will keep the rest of us safe.

We don’t want a judge who will coddle criminals.

Olszewski struck a balance in his courtroom on Tuesday. He gave these young men another chance and tried to steer them on the path to good citizenship yet didn’t forget about the rest of us who just want to be able to walk the streets without fear.

He is wise enough to know that if these four men want to make it in America – legally, that is – they need to learn the language and get a job. Sounds more than fair to me.

It’s ironic that none of these criminals nor their attorneys raised an objection to Olszewski’s sentence. Most of the flak that was directed at the judge came from national talking heads who seem to insinuate that the American criminal justice system owes something to these men. It’s almost as though we should be grateful that they decided to migrate here to add some diversity to our nation. Forget the fact that all they have done so far is to start a new life of crime here.

I have a feeling that we haven’t heard the last of this case.

But, there’s a simple solution to all of this: Forget the whole English mandate and throw them all into jail for two years.

Renita Fennick can be reached at 829-7246 or