Vigilance, not Vigilantes HOWARD COUNTY


Anyone can sympathize with the residents on the Jessup-based Citizens Advisory Board for Correctional Institutions, who recently requested that the state provide them with a list of inmates slated for release into their communities. There is ample fear almost everywhere over the release of potential repeat offenders, especially those convicted of violent crimes.

The advisory board residents were doubly concerned following last month's arrest of Thurman Alexander Moore. Nearly two months after he was released from the Mental Health Unit at Patuxent Institution after serving 19 years for the rape of a girl, the man was re-arrested on charges of attempting to rape a Columbia woman. The case drew broad attention because the owner of a local barbecue stand heard the woman's screams and came to her rescue.

However reasonable are people's fears, though, supplying residents with lists of released convicts would accomplish little but to fan the flames of fear. Melanie Gutjahr, chairwoman of the advisory board, says she simply wants residents to know who is being released into their neighborhoods so that they can protect their families from harm. But what is it residents can do once they receive this information? Any steps they can take within the law they should be taking already.

"I am a law-abiding citizen and I have not been arrested," Ms. Gutjahr says. "I have a right to know when someone who has committed a crime is being released into my neighborhood." Some of this information is already available to the public if they seek it. Also, what of the notion that someone who has been properly released from prison has served his debt to society? Can we summarily write off everyone who has spent time in prison, even for a violent crime? By the same token, the concerned residents could as easily be victimized by someone not recently released from incarceration. Lastly, what good would come of a list of names? Repeat offenders don't introduce themselves by name. Without a description, a resident wouldn't know John Ex-Con from John Doe.

That's not to belittle residents' fears and concerns. They're justified. But this proposal wouldn't solve anything. And if such a list led residents to take matters into their own hands, they would be no better than the criminals they fear.

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