GOP hopeful targets crime Juvenile justice fixes, curtailing parole top Sauerbrey's agenda

Candidate hedges on tax cuts

September 02, 1998|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Dismissing the Glendening administration's claims of safer streets, Ellen R. Sauerbrey unveiled a wide-ranging anti-crime program yesterday in which she called for an overhaul of Maryland's juvenile justice system and an end to parole for all violent offenders.

Speaking at a street-corner news conference in Baltimore's Pigtown neighborhood, the Republican gubernatorial front-runner produced a list of proposals to improve public safety in a state that she claimed has the fourth-worst violent crime rate in the nation.

The agenda includes establishment of a statewide Juvenile Court, adoption of federal truth-in-sentencing guidelines, construction of new facilities to house juvenile offenders and tougher sentences for criminals who use handguns.

But as Sauerbrey outlined a series of actions that could involve additional spending, she also hedged her bets on budget issues in response to recent turmoil in world stock markets. Questioned by reporters, she acknowledged that she would only be able to deliver on her promises of specific tax cuts and spending initiatives if the state's economy holds up.

"If there was a falling-out of the economy, it may mean the tax cuts, just like spending increases, will have to be delayed," she said. Sauerbrey is running on a pledge to cut taxes by 14 percent, as well as to spend more on education.

The anti-crime program unveiled yesterday is Sauerbrey's effort to establish a firm claim to the public safety issue -- a traditional Republican strong point that the Glendening administration has worked persistently to seize.

But Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Glendening's chief adviser on criminal justice issues, said many of Sauerbrey's proposals are initiatives the administration has already launched. Been there, done that, done more," Townsend said.

She said Sauerbrey's charge that Maryland has the nation's fourth-highest rate of violent crime was based on statistics from 1995 -- the year the Glendening administration took office -- and ignored progress made during the past three years. Townsend said the administration cut violent crime by 9 percent at a time when the national rate dropped 5 percent.

In an interview last night, Sauerbrey said she did not know which year's statistics her charge was based upon. A footnote in her proposal showed that Townsend's assertion is correct.

Sauerbrey, the likely Republican nominee, was joined at the press conference by Richard Bennett, her running mate. She said Bennett would take over Townsend's crime-fighting role in a Sauerbrey administration.

Like Sauerbrey, Bennett leveled especially harsh criticism at the state's juvenile justice system, which he said is "in crisis."

"Our entire juvenile court system is a hot spot," he said in a mocking reference to Glendening's program of concentrating law enforcement resources in high-crime areas.

Sauerbrey's plan calls for the establishment of a statewide Juvenile Court within the District Court system. She said minor traffic cases could be assigned to lesser court officials to free judges to hear juvenile cases. Every juvenile who comes into the system should be brought before a judge, rather than a court-appointed juvenile master, she said.

Sounding a note of moderation, Sauerbrey also stressed that her plan calls for greater involvement of social agencies -- not just harsher punishment.

"We recognize fully that the cure for crime does not begin in the electric chair. It begins in the high chair," she said.

For more conservative voters, Sauerbrey proposed a series of actions to put more criminals in jail and to keep them there longer. The measures would include a doubling of the mandatory minimum 5-year sentence for using a firearm in a crime of violence.

Sauerbrey also reiterated her call for an end to parole for all violent offenders -- a popular theme in gubernatorial races around the country.

Townsend said the Glendening administration has drastically cut back parole for violent offenders. She cited statistics showing that 4 percent of violent criminals won parole last year, compared with 18 percent 10 years ago.

But Sauerbrey said cutting the parole rate is not enough. She dismissed as "baloney" Glendening administration estimates that a ban on parole for violent offenders would require 4,000 to 5,000 new prison beds at a cost of up to $500 million. She said the budget implications of her proposal would not begin to be felt for many years.

One aspect of Sauerbrey's plan won praise from a leading advocate for reform of the state's juvenile justice system.

"I've been saying for years, 'Why do you have judges hearing speeding tickets and masters deciding children's lives?' " said University of Maryland law professor Susan P. Leviton, founder of Advocates for Children and Youth.

But Leviton questioned the current political emphasis on restricting parole, saying such proposals would keep elderly inmates locked up long past the point where they were dangerous.

"Do you want to run nursing homes in prisons? Do you know how expensive that is?" she asked.

Pub Date: 9/02/98

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