Tough on Crime?

February 23, 1994|By CARL T. ROWAN

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- Wouldn't it be nice to return to the days when families put a milk bottle on the porch with money in it, certain that only the milkman would take it? The problem is that when we put our money in the milk bottle, America didn't have millions of youngsters who were largely bereft of parental supervision.

Children's ''churches'' were not street gangs. Their most trusted companion was not a revolver, and our streets didn't bristle with 211 million handguns.

Americans now are vulnerable to a special hysteria about crime, because they don't know how to restore the tranquillity of a half-century ago, and they can't bring themselves to banish the pistols. Their fear and hysteria are being fanned by politicians who are among the most protected people in America.

Thus, Mr. Clinton apparently felt pressured into endorsing a crime billthat would authorize billions of dollars for more prisons, ''boot camps'' and more juvenile detention centers.

These ''boot camps,'' ''reform schools'' and ''stockades'' would only increase the number of people who are so fiercely alienated against society that they commit crimes.

We already have a Job Corps program that deals magnificently with disadvantaged youngsters who have had minor confrontations with the law. I recently wrote about a Job Corps center near here where kids are learning crafts, becoming marvelous carpenters, bricklayers and the like. These were kids who had tried dope, sold a bit of it, been shoplifters, gotten pregnant in high school.

The youngsters in the Job Corps are proud because they are not made to think of themselves as criminals, or enemies of society. Their centers cannot be viewed as concentration camps, as the ''boot camps'' and ''stockades'' surely would be.

So why not expand the Job Corps program instead of pumping millions into ''boot camps'' and juvenile detention centers? Why not more friendly intervention into the lives of children who need it, with counseling, tutoring, job training and scholarship help?

The main reason is that some politicians want only to appear ''tough on crime.'' They want to seem responsive to the wild cries of, ''Lock 'em up!'' and ''Fry 'em!''

I salute former Deputy Attorney General Philip Heymann, who dared to resign so he could tell the American people that the crime bill now before the Congress is mostly political posturing, and that Congress is about to spend some $22 billion on emotional nostrums that will not wipe out violence in America.

Is it possible that enough congressmen can break free of the political posturing to a point where they too will tell Americans the truth?

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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