Prison expose stretches to Maryland


Publicists for the CBS news magazine show "48 Hours" took pains this week to note that tonight's edition documenting the problems of prison crowding in Texas applies anywhere across the United States, and especially in Maryland.

According to the network, Maryland is among six states with the highest levels of jammed prisons, along with Connecticut, Massachusetts, Ohio, California and Pennsylvania.

Tonight's show (at 8, Channel 11) serves up the same despairing view of a justice system spinning its wheels as sketched so acutely by novelist Tom Wolfe in his "Bonfire of the Vanities," about the New York City justice factory.

But here the scene is Harris County, Texas (the Houston area), where the reality of jail time actually served vs. the time sentenced causes the show's usually steady Bernard Goldberg to lose his reportorial objectivity.

"That's a joke," blurts the correspondent when an expert concedes that most prisoners only serve in months the time they were sentenced in years -- meaning a 10-year sentence may result in just 10 months incarceration.

"Is nobody afraid of jail anymore?" Goldberg asks a group of women inmates. In unison they reply, "no." One even asserts that prisoners become like family so doing the time is easy.

The problem grows in a relentless cycle. The state legislature mandates longer sentencing, putting more prisoners in jail, yet federal prison reform actions force early releases. Parolees commit more crimes and soon rejoin the merry-go-round.

A judge says she is "heartsick" at the cycle yet powerless to stop it, asserting bluntly that "there are no consequences for criminal offenses in Texas." A prosecutor emphasizes the point by saying the streets really are no longer safe for anybody.

HE'S BAAACK! -- The question is, will people want to talk about his recent fact-finding and business-building trip to Kuwait or his, er, uniquely personal responses to recent complaints from his constituents?

He's Governor William Donald Schaefer, who is once again scheduled to be on the other end of the phone lines with host Ron Smith in tomorrow's "Stateline With Gov. Schaefer" program at 3:30 p.m. on WBAL-AM 1090. It marks Schaefer's first broadcast since being elected to his second term. The toll-free talk line is 1-800-767-WBAL.

LOCAL ANGLE -- Premium cable subscribers take note: Tonight's HBO feature "Men Don't Leave" (at 8 o'clock) is set in Baltimore and was partly filmed here (as well as in Chicago). If you missed it at the theaters in 1989, it is well worth a look, quirky yet emotionally connecting. Jessica Lange is a widow who must start a new life with her two sons. Look for scenes shot in the Peabody, University Hospital, around the waterfront and in row house neighborhoods.

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