GOP takes to the 'hood to unveil anti-crime plan

January 24, 2001|By GREGORY KANE

ON A BLUSTERY Tuesday afternoon with winds blowing just enough to give the bones a slight chill, a group of folks stood outside a building in the 2100 block of N. Charles St. The men were dressed in conservative suits, the women in business attire.

It was a pretty white-bread group. They were, in fact, all white -- Republicans in the state legislature who had come to visit Baltimore. You might even have called the group "Republicans in the 'Hood," because just four blocks east of where they stood is one of the city's most crime-ridden, poverty-stricken and drug-ravaged communities.

That's part of what had brought them to Baltimore. Maryland Republicans drove up Interstate 97 from Annapolis to visit a Baltimore parole and probation office and drug treatment center, and unveil their public safety proposals for the coming budget year.

"We're very supportive of Mayor Martin O'Malley's request for additional money for drug treatment," said Sen. Larry E. Haines of Carroll County.

Drug treatment dollars are near the top of the public-safety agenda for the state legislature's Republican caucus. In a state that was quick to pony up bucks for new football and baseball stadiums, it's nice to know some state lawmakers take the issue of drug treatment seriously.

Del. John R. Leopold of Anne Arundel County, who stood next to Haines, gave an amen to the senator's call for drug treatment. Leopold, by the way, voted against funding for a new football stadium.

There are other parts to the Republican anti-crime proposal. They want to abolish parole for repeat violent offenders, do away with "good time" behavior credit for sex offenders and advocate publishing the names of sex offenders on a Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Web site.

Republicans also proposed that the state allocate $4.2 million in the budget before the legislature to reduce the caseloads of parole and probation officers. Each of Maryland's 681 agents carries an average caseload of 105 high- and low-risk offenders. Some caseloads exceed 150.

The GOP lawmakers also want Maryland's new U.S. attorney -- who will be appointed by President George W. Bush to replace the departing Lynne Battaglia -- to adopt Project Exile, a program that sends gun crimes to federal court for tougher sentencing. Proponents of Project Exile credit the program with bringing about a massive reduction in homicides in Richmond, Va.

Republicans in the state Senate and House of Delegates want only those wearing body armor in the commission of a drug-trafficking crime charged with illegally wearing body armor.

"This is in contrast to the governor's proposal," Leopold said, speaking of Gov. Parris Glendening's proposed legislation that would ban body armor for most everyone. "It makes more sense to go after the offender."

But drug treatment was the main topic of this day. The Republicans in the 'hood moved their news conference across the street to the offices of the Man Alive Research Inc. center -- to learn more about drug treatment, as well as to escape a crosswind that was getting more wicked by the minute.

They were joined by Baltimore Del. Clarence Davis, who was the token Democrat in the group. Soon all were seated in an office, listening attentively as Karen Reese, Man Alive's executive director, told them about drug treatment and the dopamine factor.

"Addiction," Reese explained, "according to 20 years of research, is a brain disease. It has nothing to do with being a moral issue or weakness." What it has to do with, she said, is a brain chemical called dopamine. It activates the pleasure centers of the brain. Cocaine and heroin are known to elevate the brain's level of dopamine. The imbalance causes an addict's cravings, and thus addiction.

Man Alive, founded in 1967, treats 600 heroin addicts with a methadone maintenance program. It has a budget of $1 million and has 200 addicts on its waiting list. Methadone, Reese said, acts as a "replacement drug" to correct the brain's dopamine imbalance. Some addicts are able to kick heroin without methadone. Why some addicts need methadone and others don't, Reese said, may be because of genetic differences.

But Del. Carmen Amedori of Carroll County expressed what should be a bipartisan goal for everyone in America.

"We want to reduce the demand," Armedori said. "Drug treatment will reduce the demand. If we reduce the demand, the supply will go down."

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