Maryland offenders deemed legally insane confined for...

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

March 25, 2002

Maryland offenders deemed legally insane confined for treatment

We are writing to correct two errors in The Sun's article "Insanity defense hard to use, Maryland experts say" (March 14).

First, the article reports that a study conducted in Baltimore in 1991 showed that only eight individuals in Maryland were successful in their use of the insanity defense that year. In fact, that study was limited to cases in Baltimore City; statewide, approximately 50 individuals were found not criminally responsible (or legally "insane") in Maryland in 1991.

Second, the article reports that, according to Dr. Jeffrey Janofsky, "In Maryland, at least five women diagnosed with similar severe psychoses who killed their babies are being treated at Clifton T. Perkins hospital after being found not criminally responsible."

In fact, of the 19 women hospitalized at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, not one killed a child (hers or anyone else's). Indeed, Perkins Hospital has not seen such a patient in the seven years the two of us have been associated with the facility.

We agree with Dr. Janofsky and others that the insanity defense is an important component of Maryland's criminal justice system. And although we are not privy to all the evidence the jury heard in the trial of Andrea Yates, we are disturbed by the verdict in her case as well.

But Sun readers should know that individuals in Maryland found not criminally responsible are committed for treatment in an inpatient psychiatric facility until released by the court that put them there. And those ultimately released re-offend at a rate lower than the offense rate for the state's general population.

W. Lawrence Fitch

Dr. M. Richard Fragala

Jessup

The writers are, respectively, the director of the Office of Forensic Services for the state's Mental Hygiene Administration and the superintendent of the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center.

Blaming Andrea Yates won't protect future kids

It is unlikely that Andrea Yates would have been convicted had she been able to prove she had been given a secret potion by someone intent on having her murder her children, and that potion had had the desired intent.

But, ironically, Ms. Yates was under the control of just such a potion, one manufactured by her own unusual, but not unique, body chemistry. And unfortunately, the mental health professionals responsible for providing the antidote failed to give it to her.

Many find it easy to blame Ms. Yates for her children's deaths. But we would pay a large price for so easily disposing of this matter, for it would distract us from addressing the treatment she was entitled to receive and did not.

To protect future Ms. Yateses and their children, we need to address the shortcomings of those charged with her treatment -- and of our chronic disregard of the needs of those caretakers and of their patients.

Stanley L. Rodbell

Columbia

What was husband's role in the Yates family tragedy?

I feel compelled to respond to Gregory Kane's column "No one was looking out for Andrea Yates' children" (March 17).

Mr. Kane briefly mentions Ms. Yates' "doctors, her husband and other family members," and then proceeds to wonder why child protective services did not interfere in this tragic situation. This is just another case of blaming government agencies for the failure of individual morality and responsibility.

The question should be: Where was her husband? Why was he not only ignoring his wife's problems but adding to them by continuing to father more children?

Linda Middlestadt

New Freedom, Pa.

It takes gall for Mr. Bush to criticize Mr. Mugabe

I find it highly amusing that President Bush would have the unmitigated gall to criticize Robert Mugabe for being elected president of Zimbabwe in a rigged election ("Africans back Mugabe win, but the West denounces it," March 15).

If that's not a case of the pot calling the kettle black, then I don't know what is.

William Smith

Baltimore

Driving with open container merits a serious penalty

Shame on Dels. Michael V. Dobson and Nancy M. Hubers for their lame excuses for opposing a penalty for driving with open containers of alcohol ("House OKs bill prohibiting open containers in vehicles," March 15).

May I suggest to "good neighbor" Mr. Dobson that he toss the beer cans in his trunk when he's out cleaning up his neighborhood? And surely Ms. Hubers' bull roasters can find designated drivers with trunks.

Indeed, as an emergency physician who sees the toll of drunken driving daily, I find the $25 fine for driving with an open container of alcohol a slap on the wrist rather than a deterrent to the odious practice of drinking while driving.

James Doyle

Towson

`Credit scoring' benefits some insurance customers

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