Impounding budget won't help city courts do their job...


February 25, 2000

Impounding budget won't help city courts do their job better

Faced with a drug-fueled crime problem, Mayor Martin O'Malley demanded immediate action from the legislature and the judiciary ("O'Malley insists funds for courts be delayed," Feb. 12).

The mayor's sense of urgency is not misplaced. He is certainly right that more needs to be done.

But it is not wrong to pause for a moment and take stock of recent progress.

In the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, the number of postponements in 1999 was reduced by 32 percent from the previous year. The number of defendants awaiting trial was reduced 58 percent in 1999 and cases pending trial went down 51 percent.

For the first time since 1995, the court disposed of more cases than the state's attorney's office filed.

This is a dramatic reversal of fortunes. If this work is not perfect, can we not at least look on it and say it is good?

The remaining work cannot be accomplished by one person or one branch of government acting alone.

It is encouraging that this problem now has the interest and attention of the mayor, the legislature and the judiciary, all at the same time.

Without a constructive and cooperative effort by all three branches of government, attempts to further improve the criminal justice system are doomed to failure. We simply cannot afford that.

The criminal court system in Baltimore City may not yet work to perfection. But how can it be improved by withholding money, when one root cause of the system's problems is chronic under-funding of the courts, the state's attorney's office and the public defender's office?

Holding judges hostage to legislative funding also works against the proper functioning of an independent judiciary.

The Bar Association of Baltimore City urges the immediate release of funds to the court system in Baltimore City.

We hope all interested parties can work together calmly and rationally so that we may move forward together.

Matthew Zimmerman


The writer is president of the Bar Association of Baltimore City.

A simple solution: enforce the law

The records of the two men just arrested for the murder of Sgt. Bruce A Prothero support what many of us have been saying for years: Instead of pushing for additional laws and gun bans for political hype, quit coddling criminals.

How could these men be on the streets with their arrest records ("Probation unit lost suspect in Prothero case," Feb. 19)?

Sergeant Prothero's wife and children would still have a husband and father if the courts had done their job.

When do we enforce the maxim: "If you do the crime, you will do the time."

C. S. Bice

Bel Air

I must respectfully disagree with two points U.S. Attorney Lynn A Battaglia raised in her column "Linking Efforts on Gun Crime," (Opinion Commentary, Feb. 16).

Ms. Battaglia said that "there is no simple solution to firearm violence problem in Baltimore, and that despite the allure of such thinking, it is a serious mistake to expect that the problem can be solved by the federal government alone."

But if Richmond and New York City have found that a "simple" plan is possible and working, what is holding back the city of Baltimore?

And, while the citizens of Baltimore, or any city, ought not expect federal authorities to solve the problem, this responsibility should belong to the state.

But where the state cannot or is not willing to exercise this role, federal officials ought to step in.

Frank Novak


Prisons are bulging, but with the right inmates?

The United States quietly reached a record last past week: We now have 2 million people in our jails.

We could get greater value for our tax dollar. In some cases judges have to sentence three-time losers to long sentences, even though their crimes don't merit it.

And, on the one hand, we have violent criminals who should have been in jail, not on the street, shooting policemen.

On the other hand, much of the prison population is made up of nonviolent offenders who could be punished in a better way or given treatment.

Al Buls


Does drug treatment really stop crime, addiction?

I'd like to question the city's drug treatment budget ("City seeks $25 million for crisis," Feb. 15).

Twenty-six million dollars budgeted, plus a requested increase of $25 million for one year of drug treatment in Baltimore equals big business and poor investment.

Eighteen thousand addicts were supposedly treated last year. But how many were sentenced to treatment versus those self-admitted? What percentage of each group are free from drug use today as a result of drug treatment?

Have crime and the number of addicts declined since funding treatment centers became a required public expense?

Or has increasing annual funding created an industry that judges its success on the number of available treatment slots?

Daniel J. Winner


As long as drugs are illegal, they will cause havoc, crime

Thanks for publishing William Smith's letter, "It's drug prohibition that's the source of the expense, violence" (Feb. 11).

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