Solution for Circuit Court's problems is state takeover, like jail and college

Letters to the Editor

February 24, 1999

In response to the article ("Mayor has his own fix for courts," Feb. 19), I thought further explanation on my position concerning the Baltimore Circuit Court was in order.

While many observers seem to have just discovered this "court crisis," I have watched it brewing for some time now and have actively sought a remedy.

For the past 10 years, the city administration has included in its legislative agenda the request that the state assume the cost of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Recent events relating to the problems of the criminal justice system in the city suggest that this major reform, which we have supported for more than a decade, is an idea whose time has come.

Most citizens do not know that all levels of the court system, except the circuit courts (or trial courts), are paid for by state government. The reason for this structure is a matter of politics and history, not policy and analysis.

Because funding for the circuit courts depends on the financial situation of the counties rather than the economic strength of the state, citizens are left with a trial court system in which a high-income county with low crime is able to spend relatively more on the courts than a low-income county with high crime. This disparity creates problems for the entire state and is the reason that state government intervention is appropriate.

Several years ago, at our request, the governor and the General Assembly examined two institutions then under the exclusive control of the city: the jail and the community college. The jail was suffering from severe overcrowding and other problems. It became clear that the problems of the city jail had a huge impact on the state because 50 percent of the inmates in the state prison system came from one subdivision -- Baltimore.

The state takeover brought the additional resources required to address overcrowding and other matters designed to comply with the federal court decree directed at the jail. Along those same lines, the state assumption of the cost of the community college brought the kind of resources that allowed that institution to become one of the fastest growing institutions of higher education in the state. This benefited the students, the business community and the entire state, which needed an effective city community college to address the needs for a well-trained work force.

Today, I doubt anyone would find fault with the judgments made by state elected officials regarding their decisions to assume the costs of the jail and the community college.

Although the politics are difficult, the policy rationale supporting the state assumption of the costs of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City is compelling. Given the modest annual growth in the city's general fund, it is unlikely that we will be able to increase dramatically the budget of the Circuit Court.

This court system can improve with a combination of management reforms and additional resources. Both will be required to produce the kind of results all citizens desire. The work of this court has an impact on the rest of the criminal justice system throughout Maryland.

And, of course, the effectiveness of the criminal justice system has a tremendous impact on the quality of life for all of our citizens. The time is now to improve the effectiveness of that system by this major reform affecting the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Baltimore

Story shed some light on dealer-landlords -- now give them heat

The Sun is to be highly commended for ripping away the cloak of anonymity under which the drug-dealing vermin who infest our city not only ruin lives with their trade but also terrorize the tenants of houses bought with their ill-gotten gains.

The arrogant victimization of the poor is a crime for which no penalty should be too severe nor no place in hell too hot.

At the risk of offering unsolicited advice to professionals from an amateur, perhaps police officials could set up a special hot line by which tenants and their neighbors could report the movement of these landlords, enabling them to be shadowed very closely by a special team of officers.

Such a system might have discouraged the kind of violence and intimidation of tenants described in your article. In my opinion, a little harassment of convicted drug dealers is long overdue.

John D. Schiavone, Kingsville

Baltimore County has fill of juvenile treatment homes

With regard to placing a group home for troubled teens in Worthington Valley or Randallstown, the real question is not why me, but why us?

Why is Baltimore County the jurisdiction in the state with the most juvenile treatment facilities?

These unfortunate children with complex problems are not only living in the middle of our communities, they are overburdening our schools, which lack the funds to adequately educate and care for them.

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