`Front end' solutions can help stop crime As we grapple...


May 13, 2000

`Front end' solutions can help stop crime

As we grapple with the issues surrounding the Baltimore police department and commissioner, we need also to consider that studies have linked poverty and low levels of education with crime.

Surveys indicate that, upon their entrance to prison, most inmates had less than an eighth grade education and lived in an impoverished environment.

Poverty and lack of education are not excuses for crime, because many poor and "undereducated" people do not commit crimes.

But if we want to reduce violent crime in Baltimore, these variables must be added to the equation.

Up until now, Mayor Martin O'Malley and others have ignored them and have concentrated on "backend" solutions for fighting crime."Front end" solutions have been shelved for a later day.

Baltimore's public schools, for example, are in horrible condition. Teachers are underpaid and in some cases, undereducated. The schools have hardly any books in their classrooms or libraries.

Lesson plans are often not updated and there is a severe shortage of the basic teaching tools. Few students are allowed to take their textbooks home because there are far too few to go around.

Statistics indicate that in almost all large urban centers the drop out rate exceeds 50 percent and that black males are twice as likely to be suspended from school and 50 percent more likely than the overall school population to experience corporal punishment.

This is an environment that is ripe for disillusionment, depression and crime.

We have responded to crime in Baltimore City almost exclusively with the "John Wayne Syndrome": Getting tough on crime by bringing in $2,000-a-day consultants and a commissioner straight from the battlefield called New York.

We need a commissioner of education. We need the mayor to create a plan to rectify the education situation in his next 200 days.

We need him to impose his will on the school board and maybe get into a yelling match with some of the school administrators.

Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, the president of the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, has pointed out that young black men today are more likely to be killed or sent to prison than graduate from college.

Let's face a fact all too often ignored: Baltimore has more than 300 murders a year -- far too many -- and the schools have more than a 50 percent dropout rate.

More children in Baltimore City are being murdered by bad education than by violent criminals.

Tyrone Powers


The writer is director of the Institute for Criminal Justice, Legal Studies and Public Service at Anne Arundel Community College.

Let's not surrender in war on smoking

In her column "Why the war on smoking backfires with teens" (May 2) Susan Reimer says that in spite of various efforts to quell teen-age smoking, the epidemic is at an all-time high and rising.

Ms. Reimer concludes, "It's hard to imagine a public health campaign that could be more of a failure."

Recounting Malcolm Gladwell's thesis that "change does not require huge, expensive programs," Ms. Reimer suggests that "all that is necessary is a tweaking of the recipe for cigarettes so that there is still enough nicotine for the taste and the buzz, but not enough to be addictive."

In other words, given the rebellious nature of teen-agers, they are going to smoke simply because adults disapprove, so all we can do is weaken the addictive capacity of cigarettes and wait it out.

Once they are adults who are out of the rebellious stage, they will want to quit.

Ms. Reimer's thinking is not only wrong, it's dangerous. Yes, the incidence of teen-age smoking is high and kids smoke mainly in response to adult disapproval and peer pressure.

Does that mean we should give up the battle? We in health care say, "no."

Our experience is that many teen-agers do want to quit -- let's not give up on them.

We will continue to provide programs to educate kids to prevent them from starting to smoke and help those who have started to kick the habit.

Tax dollars, grants and other funds which assist us in fighting this battle are money well-spent.

Ms. Reimer's premise that weakening the addictive capacity of cigarettes would make them safe is not based on scientific fact.

But even if that made cigarettes safe, or safer, does she really believe the tobacco industry is the least bit interested in cooperative efforts which would decrease their customer base?

Esther Rae Barr


The writer is executive director of the Maryland Academy of Family Physicians.

Thanks to Susan Reimer for bringing attention to the difficult question of why our children are continuing to start using tobacco ("Why the war on smoking backfires with teens," May 2).

Her column, however, ignored one basic truth: Children are being carefully targeted by two of the most wealthy and powerful industries in this nation -- the tobacco and advertising industries.

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