Curran pushes state role in curbing youth crime Delinquency: Maryland's attorney general says his wide-ranging survey indicates early intervention is needed to head off juvenile delinquency.

The Political Game

September 02, 1997|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

YES, VIRGINIA, it does take a village to raise a child -- and the cops are expert witnesses, according to Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

"Where there is a mother and father and grandparents, wonderful. But there isn't always," Curran says. So the state -- recruiting partners where and when it can -- must intervene and early to help prevent delinquency.

Curran's contribution is to try to find programs that work. He recently completed a statewide inventory of the best ideas. Prosecutors and police officers, PTA members and school boards, councilmen and mayors say early intervention -- from midnight basketball to tutoring -- has an impact on juvenile missteps and crime.

"Don't let things be ridiculed as some foggy-headed idea when the police say these are the things that do work," Curran says.

It might sound like an old, discredited song, but Curran isn't afraid to sing it.

"To wait until a kid has done six or eight things and then send him to a juvenile correction facility we're kidding ourselves if we ever think we'll change his behavior," he says. Curran thinks kids can be diverted from lives of crime and says many crime fighters agree with him. Many of them are running the good programs, after all.

Although attorneys general are not, practically speaking, fighters street crime, they are always challenged during elections to say what they would do about it.

Finding it a bit lame to say he has no constitutional responsibility for combating murder and robbery, Curran says he is looking for things he can do. Sure, it's a political exercise for a public official about to seek re-election. But Curran's campaign is not the most politically safe we can think of. He says his approach will cost money -- in a state where, he quickly points out, the percentage of the budget spent for crime-fighting is one of the highest among the 50 states.

Nor does he wish to reduce that. More prisons and prosecutors and police officers may be needed. If so, he says, let's have them.

But is that all we can do? Can anything be done to head off the miscreants rolling along the crest of the chronological wave and into the next decade or two?

"We decided to go to the real grass roots: PTAs, city and county councils, school boards, prosecutors and others," Curran says. He and his assistants went to nine Maryland counties and to New York to look at programs that might work in every community.

So how many of the locals agree that prevention is the ultimate answer?

"I have yet to hear a responsible police voice ridicule prevention. They know what gives kids a chance to act out their energies," Curran says. Law enforcement personnel across Maryland are running most of the prevention programs, as always.

So, Curran says, "Let's spotlight these things and maybe they can be used in every community. This fall, we'll be publicizing programs that work."

More public and private investment will be needed, he says.

"Businesses want safe communities, safe streets, lower crime rates, so there are programs they could adopt," Curran says.

Political will and risk-taking by office seekers, he says, is needed to address the fears of those who feel threatened by crime and by the high taxes needed to address the long-term problems. Maryland is housing 21,000 inmates, he repeats, at huge expense.

"Certainly we are taxed high, so you have to find public-private partnerships because, whether we like it or not, the whole

community is at risk," Curran says.

Cardin decision on race for governor coming "soon"

In a matter of days, the longest two weeks in Maryland political history may come to an end.

For most of the summer, it seems, 3rd District Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin and his friends have been suggesting that he'll decide whether to run for governor "in about two weeks." Now it appears that the decision point has arrived. No announcement has been scheduled yet, but "soon" is the current word.

What will the decision be?

No one seems to know but Cardin, a Democrat.

A poker player, Cardin is playing his cards so close to his vest that even the vest doesn't know.

Bono scheduled to appear at Ehrlich fund-raiser

Rep. Sonny Bono of California will be one of the special guests Sept. 20 at a $30-a-ticket fund-raiser for his Republican colleague, Maryland Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. The 1960s singer will be joined by deejay Buddy Dean and other personalities. The event is scheduled for the Towson Center at Towson University.

Ehrlich did not say whether he had tried to get Cher, the singer-actress who teamed with Bono in Sonny & Cher.

Pub Date: 9/02/97

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