Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

October 25, 2003

Closing prisons on false promise of rehabilitation

Both reporter David Nitkin ("Md. wants to demolish Supermax as obsolete at 14," Oct. 16) and columnist Dan Rodricks ("Raise a toast to the decline of Supermax era," Oct. 19) think closing Supermax, the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center (MCAC), has something to do with the rehabilitation-vs.-incapacitation debate, the perennial yin and yang of prison policy. They are mistaken.

The population of MCAC falls into three categories: death row prisoners, federal prisoners facing trial and the most dangerous Maryland convicts -- escape artists, gang leaders and those who have killed other inmates or assaulted prison staff. These are the worst of the worst prisoners, and they arrive at MCAC not to be rehabilitated, but to be caged.

Whether they remain in Baltimore or are sent to the new prison in Cumberland, these men require the most secure housing, with the greatest restrictions on internal movement. They are not candidates for return to the community, nor should they be.

Mary Ann Saar, Maryland's secretary of public safety and correctional services, is quoted as saying she is interested in "razing" MCAC. But this would only exacerbate Maryland's chronic prison overcrowding problem.

And, in fact, no prison rehabilitation program -- education, job training, boot camp, drug treatment, psychotherapy -- has ever been proven to keep released convicts from committing new crimes. If Ms. Saar devises new programs that do so for Maryland, this will be first in American history.

Prison programs are all to the good if they keep convicts busy. But they are sold to the public on a promise that is never kept: that graduates will not have to go back to jail.

The truth is that we have no idea how to "correct" or "rehabilitate" anyone. But we use the false promise of rehabilitation to accelerate release, and thus to manage our criminal population without building new prisons.

In Maryland we have perfected the art of releasing current offenders as fast as new ones are brought in.

Hal Riedl

Baltimore

The writer is a correctional case manager of the Maryland Division of Corrections, but he does not speak for the department.

Prejudice distorts mortgage decisions

I appreciated The Sun's article on the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now study that discussed the difference in rejection rates for mortgage applications of white and minority applicants ("Mortgage approvals show gap by race," Oct. 17). But the statement by Ralph Dawson, president-elect of the Maryland Association of Mortgage Brokers, was somewhat unsatisfactory, because it appeared to imply that he sees no need for change in his profession.

It is undoubtedly true that a one-factor explanation of the problem (i.e. that mortgage companies are prejudiced) is simplistic. But that does not mean mortgage companies are not prejudiced.

And another statement in the article supports the accusation of prejudice: "If a black person has a credit problem, most often it [the application] is just flatly rejected,"' said Michael Cassell. "But if a white person has a credit problem, the mortgage officer will guide them through the problem and help them solve it."

As chairman of the Maryland Real Estate Commission, Mr. Cassell surely has enough information to justify that generalization -- and it offers strong evidence of racial discrimination.

By all means, we should promote counseling to educate first-time homebuyers of all races. But let us not deny the need for lenders to review their own conduct and discipline their own professional staff.

We should not allow differential responses to credit problems. And denial is not an effective management tool.

Katharine W. Rylaarsdam

Baltimore

Race issues pushed whites out of the city

It doesn't take so much type to explain the abrupt turnaround of Baltimore's white flight ("White flight shows signs of declining," Oct. 16).

I was one of those who left Baltimore, in 1997. I made my decision to leave in the fall of 1995 when I first saw a political bumper sticker stating "Mayor Schmoke Makes Us Proud."

It took several minutes before I realized that this bumper sticker's background colors were the black "liberation colors."

My heart sank. Up to that point, I had felt that despite his weaknesses, Mr. Schmoke wanted to be mayor of all Baltimoreans. This bumper sticker, soon seen all over the city, said otherwise.

The fact that this sticker was thought to be legitimate political advertising told me that white people no longer had a place in the city. Apparently, I had a lot of company.

So why the turnaround in white flight? In November 1999, Martin O'Malley was elected mayor. Whites were given hope that the city's officials would be selected on merit rather than race and that Baltimore's slide into oblivion could be stopped with an energetic, inclusive mayor who could remind Baltimoreans of their common goals.

Tim Tinker

Baltimore

Too soon to judge Belvedere's revival

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