Jail terms urged for first-time offendersSome 25 years...

the FORUM

February 22, 1994

Jail terms urged for first-time offenders

Some 25 years ago, Nan Hayden Agle, Mary Katherine Scheeler and I (with the invaluable help of City Jail education director Oliver Brown) founded the Confined Addicts program on the top floor of the Baltimore City Jail.

In this program, 20 to 30 young men sought help from addiction and escape from the cause of their incarceration -- drugs. Most were found guilty of relatively minor offenses but a few were in for major crimes, all blaming drugs for their status.

Over the months, we learned a great deal from these surprisingly charming and intelligent men.

But perhaps the loudest message we received, through conversations, case histories and their poems (oh yes, each thought himself a poet), was one which seems to have been forgotten by almost all judges and sentencing authorities: One after another told us that, at the time of his first offense, the judge took into account that this was, indeed, his first crime (or at least the first one at which he was caught) and let him off easy.

To a man they felt that, had the judge acted differently and slapped him with a stiff punishment, there might not have been a "second time."

"The punishment for the first crime was so easy I had no reason to think the second wouldn't be the same." "Going in, I thought I was in real trouble, but the judge, despite his warnings, obviously didn't think I did anything real bad." "Sure, I was scared, but I quickly learned that it was no big deal. I sure knew I wouldn't be scared the next time."

Everyone agreed that, had the original punishment been stiff, there might never have been need for another.

In the past two decades, nothing has changed. Today's prisoners will tell the same thing to anyone who listens.

But who listens? For their sakes, and our own, perhaps it is time we should.

Richard G. Ballard

Sparks

Victims rights

In your most recent editorial put-down of the victims' rights constitutional amendment (Feb. 13), you assert that supporters of the amendment do so "in the name of fighting crime." The supporters who have fought for many years for this amendment have never pushed for it as a means of fighting crime.

This amendment is to help victims after the crime. It is designed to balance the scales of justice. It is designed to have victims rights stem from the same constitutional source as do the rights of the accused and the convicted criminals.

It is strongly believed by many professionals (judges, prosecutors and police) in the criminal justice system that this constitutional basis for victims rights will significantly improve the guarantee that these rights will be honored and will not be just a hollow symbol.

You are right about one thing. Passing this bill is good politics. It is responding to the voice of the many victims, their families and neighbors and the voters of Maryland who have gotten the message that victims deserve rights, too.

Jim Donnelly

Pasadena

North pole

Should the Northern District police station remain at its present location? Why not?

Somehow it fits the, "if it ain't broke; don't fix it," category very nicely.

Built in 1896, it could be rededicated in 1996 as the "New Northern District Police Station."

With community co-operation and political common sense, the future will look bright for this northern district of Baltimore.

Curt Elliott

Baltimore

Shady past

The voters of Virginia are being deluged with the same hoary claptrap that the notorious Virginia Senate candidate Oliver North utilized during the Iran-contra hearings.

What kind of man is this who admittedly lied to members of Congress when he denied overseeing the clandestine network to funnel weapons to Nicaraguan contras during the congressional prohibition on such aid?

And in order to conceal his unconstitutional maneuverings shredded and removed from the White House official government documents?

Mr. North's participation in the creation of false chronologies of U.S. arms sales and his illegal acceptance of a home security system and then fabricating letters regarding payments for the system are well documented.

A jury found Oliver North guilty of three felonies.

A U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (consisting of two Reagan appointees) overturned his convictions, not ruling that the evidence that convicted him was inaccurate, but that it was acquired from Mr. North's self-incriminating declarations by special prosecutor Lawrence E. Walsh (which he denied) during Mr. North's congressional testimony under immunity from prosecution, and so was inadmissible.

During a recent interview on CNN, Robert McFarlane, Mr. North's former boss, stated, " Mr. North is not a man who ought to represent anybody."

Mr. North has condemned President Clinton's appointees ". . . who do not represent traditional values."

What kind of man is this who aided and abetted obstruction of Congress among other nefarious activities; who has dealt in lies and boasts he would do it all again, to unabashedly lecture us on morality, ethics and family values.

A hero role model for our youth? Frightening.

Leon Peace Ried

Baltimore

Women are enlightened, men whine

In Susan Reimer's ". . .renovated war between the sexes" (Jan. 24), the expressed concerns of women are treated as if they are an outgrowth of women's enlightenment, while the expressed concerns of men are labeled "whining" and considered reactionary.

Her anger is justified and needs to be understood. His anger is an infantile backlash against her empowerment.

Yes, women are misunderstood. So, too, are men. Understanding is a two-way street. Let's respect the concerns of both women and men, without belittling the feelings of one side or the other.

Fred Medinger

Baltimore

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