City jail is overflowing I'm no doctor, but Baltimore's...


June 10, 2000

City jail is overflowing

I'm no doctor, but Baltimore's overcrowded Central Booking pretrial jail seems to maintain ideal conditions for the "really close contact" needed to spread meningitis and other contagious and potentially deadly diseases ("Illness alert at city lockup," May 26).

New arrestees are crammed into small holding cells for up to 24 hours before they see a bail commissioner. Those unable to afford bail often sleep in plastic boat beds placed side-by-side on open floor space of dormitory-like cells.

Few jail officials would be surprised to learn that inmate contact during these lengthy detention periods includes "sharing" food, drink and sexual relations.

It is alarming that Central Booking has returned to the days when its cells were filled beyond maximum capacity.

Two summers ago, the jail was operating 150 percent over capacity. During the next nine months the Lawyers at Bail Project's representation of nonviolent offenders at bail hearings caused jail overcrowding to plummet.

Unfortunately, when the Abell Foundation's pilot project ended three months ago, limited funding prevented the city's Public Defender's Office from representing arrestees at one of Baltimore's two District Court courthouses.

During these three months, Central Booking's jail population increased by one-third.

Come July 1, the public defender will have the necessary resources to represent every indigent defendant at bail hearings.

This is crucial given the anticipated sharp increase in misdemeanor arrests the mayor's crime-fighting package will prompt.

The Lawyers at Bail Project's study showed that Baltimore's pretrial jail population includes too many people who should have been freed. Many have strong family and community ties, but remain in jail because they had no attorney and could not afford bail.

The study found that legal representation at bail made those accused of nonviolent offenses five times as likely to be released as those without a lawyer.

Since nine out of 10 people entering Baltimore's criminal justice system face nonviolent charges, the study showed enormous potential for savings from a reduced pretrial population.

Investing in representation at bail is a prudent and essential measure for reducing overcrowding and providing safer, healthier jails.

Douglas L. Colbert


The writer teaches at the University of Maryland Law School and directs the Lawyers at Bail Project.

Judge past on its own merits

The recent letter "Courage in service of oppression isn't worth celebrating" (June 1) suggests that honoring the sacrifice of one's ancestors is tantamount to supporting all their views. This is just wrong.

I honor those who fought the Revolutionary War. I do not honor their views on women's rights, Native-American rights or African-American rights.

Union veterans of the War Between the States should be honored for their service despite the fact many were opposed to freeing blacks from slavery. The notion of racial superiority was prevalent in the North as well as South.

I honor Confederate veterans for their sacrifices in defense of their homes and families. I do not honor the institution of slavery.

I can do this because I have a sense of historical perspective that is sorely lacking today. I don't judge those who went before me through the lens of a modern political ideology. I attempt to judge their actions from the perspective of their own time.

To do otherwise is unfair as well as historically inaccurate.

And without such perspective, we are doomed to adjust our judgments of preceding generations based on current political trends. History becomes a tool to espouse a modern viewpoint.

Those who went before would then always be found lacking in some way.

How could they measure up to our standards when they had no knowledge of them?

And how can we measure up to future generation's standards that are unknown to us?

Donald S. Smith


Ways to make schools work

Medfield Heights Elementary school was pleased to be recognized by The Sun as one of the most effective public schools in Baltimore ("The power of a strong principal," May 29).

Dedicated teachers and staff, motivated students and involved parents have worked together to improve instruction at our school.

Medfield students also benefit from private grants and additional school funding for personnel and material resources. In particular, the Abell Foundation's grants to support the implementation of the 100 Challenge Book program have proven immensely productive in improving reading instruction.

The grant has provided an infusion of appropriate fiction and non-fiction books to support independent reading. In the past, many of our students haven't had access to such books.

The Abell Foundation grant allows our boys and girls to read books daily at home and school on an appropriate, individual reading level. Parents and teachers serve as reading coaches.

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