Crime as an issue in 1994

January 04, 1994

Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Bishop L. Robinson says he hopes that after next year's election and changing of the guard, there will be continuity of purpose in state law enforcement, and also some changes that he believes are necessary but haven't been addressed.

Many of the changes he has made are professional, technical and bureaucratic and not likely to be the subject of much debate in the campaigns leading up to next year's state elections. But crime has become so much of a problem throughout the state that it is imperative it be fully discussed by candidates -- and not with the sort of pointless posturing that dominated the debate on crime bills in Congress this year.

One issue that deserves serious attention is the continuance of parole. This is a hot button topic around the nation. New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, who represents the "liberal" camp on law enforcement, and who may run for re-election next year, said recently he has come around to the view that parole for some violent offenders should be abolished. From the "conservative" camp comes the pledge by Gov.-elect George Allen of Virginia to abolish all parole. He wants a special session of the legislature to deal with crime.

Related to parole are the issues of prison construction and alternatives to imprisonment for some criminals. Abolishing or curtailing parole almost guarantees an increase in the number of prisoners a correctional system has to manage. It also guarantees heavy public expenses to build and maintain this enlarged penal system.

Another crime issue is weapons. Secretary Robinson is a strong advocate of banning assault-style weapons. This is the Schaefer administration's last chance to get that through the General Assembly. The governor's gun control bill is likely to resemble in some ways the proposal Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse has formulated: ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, license handguns, limit gun purchases and ownership, and impose civil liability on those who illegally transfer weapons.

Well-intentioned people might disagree with certain details but not the overall objective, which is to get increasingly dangerous and easily available weapons out of the hands of criminals and psychopaths. This is a debate that cannot wait for the campaigns of 1994. Legislators have a duty to resolve this dispute during the upcoming session of the General Assembly.

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