Breaking the cycle of criminal violence

This Just In...

February 10, 1999|By DAN RODRICKS

I walked away from Aunt Hattie's Place the other day convinced that the answer to Baltimore's mess lies behind its doors. We wouldn't have a backlog of criminal cases without a backlog of criminals. And we wouldn't have a backlog of criminals if children, particularly boys born into poverty, were protected from abuse, neglect, violence and ignorance.

``I have been a judge for more than 26 years and have unfortunately observed that in so many cases the defendants that appear today as youthful violent offenders were yesterday's abused and neglected children,'' says Judge Paul E. Alpert, retired from the bench but specially assigned to Baltimore Circuit Court.

Abuse and neglect of children, says Alpert, are ``the real causes of our overwhelmed criminal justice system.''

He's right, of course. We can argue forever about clogged dockets and crowded prisons, criminals who walk free because of delays or incompetence. But peel all that away and you're left with this - a steady flow of scarred young men into trouble, into courts, into prison. And until we do something about that, at its very root, we'll never progress toward a more civil and just society, a more livable and safer city.

Aunt Hattie's Place is two attached homes in Northeast Baltimore where eight boys - neglected, abandoned and/or abused - have had their first experience with a safe, nurturing family life. They're between 9 and 13, with special education needs. They go to school each day, come home, do their homework, do their chores, get some playtime, a good meal, reading time and bed. Had they not been sent to Aunt Hattie's Place, the boys would have been placed in individual foster homes by the Department of Social Services. The group setting, with a staff on duty 24-7 and including impressive young men who serve as genuine role models for the boys, seems more intensive and - potentially - more effective than a simple foster placement.

Founded a couple of years ago by Hattie Washington, a vice president of Coppin State College, Aunt Hattie's Place seems like the kind of place that can make a difference - love, security and discipline for boys who had none. That's the answer, isn't it? Reaching in and saving children who need saving, keeping them from harm, giving them a future.

``I am told that it costs at least $20,000 a year to house a prisoner in the Division of Corrections,'' says Alpert. ``What would it cost to add additional social workers, more and better schools and other alternative methods to avoid the abuse and neglect of our children?''

Probably less than the price of a football stadium.

Better name-sale candidates

If a corporation wants its name attached to something - and is willing to pay $100 million for the notoriety - why not a children's hospital, instead of a football stadium? Or a school? Or a group home for abused kids? Or a library? (The Enoch Pratt-PSINet Library would have made a lot more sense, and the Pratt needed the money a lot more than the Ravens.) ... If Lawrence Bell Pat Jessamy that strong, direct statements about the problems in the Baltimore Circuit Court are appreciated, but not when they're delivered as a whine? ... If Linda Tripp and Monica Lewinsky are willing to do television interviews, why not together on ``Jerry Springer''? ... This Just In: Residents of Charlestown and Oak Crest Village retirement communities consume 782,260 prunes a year.

Disaster idea old news

Crash Cafe, Patrick Turner's proposed disaster-theme restaurant on Key Highway, isn't exactly original. The walls of London's Great American Disaster were covered with depictions of transportation and natural disasters, recalls TJI reader Nancy Merritt, of Severna Park, who was there in 1978. ``The menu was dedicated to hamburgers, cheeseburgers and fries, with nary a fresh soup that I recall,'' she says. ``My English hosts at the time always thought the name referred to the menu rather than the decorations.'' Ah, but ... The Great American Disaster was the 1971 brainchild of then-21-year-old Peter Morton and his then-partner, Isaac Tigrett. From GAD grew HRC - as in, Hard Rock Cafe - and the rest is global restaurant history.

Wrongly imprisoned

Amazing: Cops questioning a suspect, apparently one of limited intellectual capacity, for hours without an attorney present, then tricking him into confessing to murder. Sounds like one of those bad-cop movies that make people in law enforcement scream that Hollywood distorts their modern image with dated stereotypes. But apparently such blatantly unethical and unconstitutional police work still happens, here at the approach of the 21st century.

Long interrogation, sans attorney, followed by confession induced by an old cop's trick - that's what allegedly happened to Anthony Gray Jr. in Calvert County eight years ago. As a result, he spent seven years in a Maryland prison for a crime he did not commit. He got out Monday. His attorney says lawsuits are likely. The state will probably be a defendant. The state will probably lose. Which means Maryland taxpayers will get to compensate Anthony Gray for the loss of seven years of freedom. Why don't we skip the lawsuits and take up a collection now?

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