Screening youth could prevent future tragediesIn the...


May 13, 1999

Screening youth could prevent future tragedies

In the aftermath of the killings at Columbine High School, many are asking themselves, How can we prevent these tragedies? While there is no single answer, there are things we can do.

One important measure is the Juvenile Justice Mental Health and Substance Abuse Screening and Assessment Act, sent by the Maryland General Assembly to the governor for his signature.

More than half of the children in Maryland's juvenile detention facilities have a diagnosable mental disorder, according to a University of Maryland study. More than 37 percent had a substance abuse problem, 19 percent admitted thinking about suicide and nearly half had great difficulty coping with daily life.

These figures demand attention. The newly passed juvenile justice mental health act requires the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) to inform parents that they should schedule a mental health and substance abuse screening after their children are the subject of a complaint.

If screening shows a problem, a full assessment would be recommended.

Parents are ultimately responsible for seeking diagnosis and treatment for their children, but the DJJ must educate families about the need for these evaluations. Insurance usually covers the cost of the tests.

Many child and mental health advocacy groups support the bill now before the governor.

Nationwide, more than 100,000 children are incarcerated, more than 90 percent for nonviolent offenses. According to the National Mental Health Association, juvenile justice facilities tend to worsen existing mental disorders and may create new ones.

On the federal level, Sen. Paul Wellstone, a Minnesota Democrat, has proposed the Mental Health Juvenile Justice Act, a bill aimed at funding treatment and diversion programs and training personnel to better recognize and cope with mental health and substance abuse issues.

Before going on their rampage, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had been seen by the juvenile justice system. We cannot know if more effective mental health screening would have revealed the extent of their hostility. We can however, do our best to prevent the next disaster.

It is right, and timely, for Maryland to move forward aggressively with the pending screening and assessment legislation.

Kenneth C. Montague Jr., Annapolis

The writer represents the 43rd Legislative District in the Maryland House of Delegates.

Aerosol sprays no longer threaten the environment

The Sun's May 6 article "Will pollution eat away the ozone layer?" said that "Chlorofluorocarbons [or CFCs] are found in air conditioners, aerosol cans and foam cups. And when CFCs hit ozone, they tear it apart."

It is important to clarify that the U.S. aerosol industry stopped using CFC propellants in the mid-1970s when scientists found that they harmed the ozone layer. In 1978, the U.S. government officially prohibited their use in virtually all consumer aerosol products.

So, it has been "OK to spray" for more than two decades.

A recent Roper Starch survey sponsored by the Consumer Aerosol Products Council found that seven out of 10 Americans still mistakenly believe that aerosols threaten the ozone layer and are unaware of the 1978 regulations. The U.S. aerosol industry has been working to clarify the facts about aerosols and CFCs.

Please help us to "clear the air" once and for all. Aerosols are CFC-free and, in many communities, recyclable.

Erica Steinig, Washington

The writer represents the Consumer Aerosol Products Council.

City needs jobs, not more housing

Baltimore has an abundance of low-cost dwellings and too few jobs.

The decision to convert Memorial Stadium into housing is senseless. It will only hasten the decline of a deteriorating area.

M. K. Kwasnik, Baltimore

Canadian example suggests guns aren't the problem ...

In his May 7 letter, "It's guns, not images that foster violence," Paul Romney claims that the United States has a higher homicide rate than countries with effective gun control. He says that Canada's homicide rate is "much lower" than ours. This is not true.

A 1991 study "Homicide and the Prevalence of Handguns," published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, observed that "major differences in the prevalence of handguns have not resulted in differing homicide rates in Canadian provinces and adjoining U.S. states."

The report concluded that "Canadians fully compensate for the relative dearth of handguns in Canada by effectively utilizing other means for killing one another."

It predicted that "Americans would be no less resourceful under comparable circumstances."

Contrary to what The Sun would have us believe, guns do not cause violence. In high school, many of my friends and I carried firearms to school daily. We never threatened or harmed anyone.

We were not criminals, we were not killers, we were not terrorists -- we were on the Calvert Hall varsity rifle team.

John H. Josselyn, Towson

The writer is vice president of the Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore Inc.

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