Hollow rhetoric

August 16, 1991

We first experienced that sinking feeling last week, when it was reported that a homeless man arrested on charges of arson and malicious destruction of property in July 1990 had been lost in the city jail for more than a year because of missteps in the criminal justice system and the jail administration.

Things got worse this week, when it was learned first that 28, then 65, more jail inmates may have been wrongfully held. One wonders how long it will be before other such bureaucratic "mistakes" turn up -- and how high the toll will ultimately go.

And the fact that such malfeasance came to light only after state officials took over the running of the facility can't help but make one to wonder how much longer those men might have languished if the city were still running the jail.

No one will argue that the hapless inmates who fell through the cracks of the jail bureaucracy don't have a legitimate complaint against the city. But the inmates aren't the only ones with a grievance. For four years, Mayor Schmoke and his jail commissioner, Barbara Bostick, repeatedly assured citizens that everything was shipshape at the jail. Now it turns out that what they called shipshape was actually a shambles.

In retrospect, what is even more disturbing than the bureaucratic snafu that led to the jail's holding inmates illegally was the hollowness of the official rhetoric meant to excuse it.

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