City jail is overflowing
I'm no doctor, but Baltimore's overcrowded Central Booking pretrial jail seems to maintain ideal conditions for the "really close contact" needed to spread meningitis and other contagious and potentially deadly diseases ("Illness alert at city lockup," May 26).
New arrestees are crammed into small holding cells for up to 24 hours before they see a bail commissioner. Those unable to afford bail often sleep in plastic boat beds placed side-by-side on open floor space of dormitory-like cells.
Few jail officials would be surprised to learn that inmate contact during these lengthy detention periods includes "sharing" food, drink and sexual relations.
It is alarming that Central Booking has returned to the days when its cells were filled beyond maximum capacity.
Two summers ago, the jail was operating 150 percent over capacity. During the next nine months the Lawyers at Bail Project's representation of nonviolent offenders at bail hearings caused jail overcrowding to plummet.
Unfortunately, when the Abell Foundation's pilot project ended three months ago, limited funding prevented the city's Public Defender's Office from representing arrestees at one of Baltimore's two District Court courthouses.
During these three months, Central Booking's jail population increased by one-third.
Come July 1, the public defender will have the necessary resources to represent every indigent defendant at bail hearings.
This is crucial given the anticipated sharp increase in misdemeanor arrests the mayor's crime-fighting package will prompt.
The Lawyers at Bail Project's study showed that Baltimore's pretrial jail population includes too many people who should have been freed. Many have strong family and community ties, but remain in jail because they had no attorney and could not afford bail.
The study found that legal representation at bail made those accused of nonviolent offenses five times as likely to be released as those without a lawyer.
Since nine out of 10 people entering Baltimore's criminal justice system face nonviolent charges, the study showed enormous potential for savings from a reduced pretrial population.
Investing in representation at bail is a prudent and essential measure for reducing overcrowding and providing safer, healthier jails.
Douglas L. Colbert
The writer teaches at the University of Maryland Law School and directs the Lawyers at Bail Project.
Judge past on its own merits
The recent letter "Courage in service of oppression isn't worth celebrating" (June 1) suggests that honoring the sacrifice of one's ancestors is tantamount to supporting all their views. This is just wrong.
I honor those who fought the Revolutionary War. I do not honor their views on women's rights, Native-American rights or African-American rights.
Union veterans of the War Between the States should be honored for their service despite the fact many were opposed to freeing blacks from slavery. The notion of racial superiority was prevalent in the North as well as South.
I honor Confederate veterans for their sacrifices in defense of their homes and families. I do not honor the institution of slavery.
I can do this because I have a sense of historical perspective that is sorely lacking today. I don't judge those who went before me through the lens of a modern political ideology. I attempt to judge their actions from the perspective of their own time.
To do otherwise is unfair as well as historically inaccurate.
And without such perspective, we are doomed to adjust our judgments of preceding generations based on current political trends. History becomes a tool to espouse a modern viewpoint.
Those who went before would then always be found lacking in some way.
How could they measure up to our standards when they had no knowledge of them?
And how can we measure up to future generation's standards that are unknown to us?
Donald S. Smith
Ways to make schools work
Medfield Heights Elementary school was pleased to be recognized by The Sun as one of the most effective public schools in Baltimore ("The power of a strong principal," May 29).
Dedicated teachers and staff, motivated students and involved parents have worked together to improve instruction at our school.
Medfield students also benefit from private grants and additional school funding for personnel and material resources. In particular, the Abell Foundation's grants to support the implementation of the 100 Challenge Book program have proven immensely productive in improving reading instruction.
The grant has provided an infusion of appropriate fiction and non-fiction books to support independent reading. In the past, many of our students haven't had access to such books.
The Abell Foundation grant allows our boys and girls to read books daily at home and school on an appropriate, individual reading level. Parents and teachers serve as reading coaches.
Our 332 students have independently read more than 125,000 books this year. Along with the foundation's funding, parents and teachers directly supervising up to an hour of daily independent reading have made this possible.
We are proud of the school community's efforts.
We invite those wishing to experience our success to come share in our program.
The writer teaches at Medfield Heights Elementary School.
Three cheers for Sarah Horsey and her faculty at Pimlico Elementary School ("The power of a strong principal," May 29). They are providing the elements necessary for learning to occur: discipline, smaller classes, highly organized lessons and high expectations for achievement.
The Sun also deserves a cheer for sponsoring research that showed how vital these variables are. It is a shame, however, that The Sun's funds, or anyone else's, had to be spent to vindicate what effective teachers have known for many, many years.
The word "instruction" and the word "structure" derive from the Latin "struere," which means to build or construct.
When building something to last (as the Romans did), the Romans realized that workers must accept discipline and responsibility, that a large building must be built of smaller parts (smaller classes), that there must be a plan (highly structured lessons) and that the building must be something of beauty (high expectations).
With these elements in place for instruction, we can be sure students will be in an environment that supports learning.
So, instead of blaming teachers for the failings of the system, let's give them the praise they deserve for understanding what is needed for students' academic success.
Let's provide discipline, expect students and their parents to be responsible, hire more teachers to reduce class sizes, provide teachers with structured lesson plans (especially beginners), set high standards and build students' trust that, by following their teachers' instruction, they will meet these standards.
The hard work of all stakeholders will be required to meet these goals, but the effort will be worth it.
Knowledge lasts even longer than the Colosseum.
Owings Mills 'heart' attacks area
The current Baltimore County administration has emphasized preserving older communities. But it is hard to believe the administration is serious about community conservation when a project such as the new Owings Mills Town Center is proposed.
The Liberty Road corridor is suffering from many commercial vacancies. Empty store after empty store plagues the area.
The Pikesville community, from the beltway to the city line, also has excessive retail and office vacancies.
And all along the Reisterstown Road corridor there are many, many retail vacancies and an abundance of office vacancies.
In Owings Mills, along Red Run Boulevard, there are huge, newly built office buildings. Not one of those mammoth office buildings is fully occupied.
In the same community, the Valley Shopping Center is losing Weiss Market, which will leave that shopping center approximately 45 percent vacant.
Existing commercial areas need more retail and office businesses to occupy current vacancies. What the areas do not need is more commercial competition.
County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger called the Town Center project adding a "heart" to Owings Mills. It is difficult to see how this can be the proper term when the project will help kill surrounding communities.
More retail stores and office buildings in Owings Mills will only shift jobs from established areas to a new place and create more commercial decay along the Liberty and Reisterstown Road corridors.
And once decay occurs along commercial corridors, residential properties near those areas also decrease in value.
But instead of adding parking areas or streetscaping or marketing existing commercial sites to make them more competitive, the county and the state have chosen to invest millions of dollars in a new commercial town center to put them out of business.
It is time for the communities involved to mobilize to defeat the Owings Mills project, before it goes one step further.
The F-22 will secure the skies
Vice Adm.iral Jack Shanahan's column on the F-22 fighter was full of errors and half-truths ("Shoot down F-22, again," Opinion
Commentary, May 22).
The column asserted that Congress voted 379- 45 last year to cut funding for the plane.
Not so. Congress voted by that margin to pass the defense appropriations bill, which included language to reduce the F-22's funding.
It voted by a similar margin to pass the defense authorization bill, which fully funded the plane.
Hundreds of Pentagon programs were covered by each bill and neither vote had much to do with the F-22.
It is also not true that the F-15 fighter costs $33 million to build while the F-22 that replaces it will cost $184 million.
A realistic cost to build a new F-15 today would be $50 million to $75 million. Once it's in regular production, the cost to build an F-22 will be similar.
One can greatly inflate the unit cost of an F-22 by including the cost of design and development, but most of that money has already been spent. And an honest comparison would at least include similar costs for the F-15.
It is not true that the F-22 contains design deficiencies such as faulty brakes and leaky fuel lines either. All the problems Admiral Shanahan cites have long since been corrected.
It is also untrue that "questions remain" about the F-22's ability to meet performance goals. All its key aerodynamic features have been demonstrated repeatedly.
The F-15 is a 30-year-old aircraft that will soon be inferior to what other nations are fielding. If America wants to maintain global air superiority, it must build and deploy the stealthy F-22.
Waiting until an urgent new threat arises to modernize our air fleet would endanger lives and undercut our capacity to protect democracy around the world.
Loren B. Thompson
The writer is chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, nonpartisan policy research organization..
Stop executions to study how state metes out death
The Sun's editorial ("Capital case filled with doubt," June 4) was a persuasive statement for sparing the life of Eugene Colvin-el, whose death-penalty sentence was commuted to life in prison by Gov. Parris N. Glendening on June 7.
The Sun noted that this case "dealt with a crime in Baltimore County, where prosecutors seek death in any eligible case, regardless of the circumstances or the weight of the evidence."
The Sun also noted that at the sentencing phase of Colvin-el's trial, the Baltimore County states attorney's office was "unreasonable" in presenting Colvin-el's prior record and emphasizing the testimony of relatives of the vctim instead of sticking to the facts concerning the crime in question.
Such is the behavior of the Baltimore County state's attorney. The trials of three-quarters of the 17 men on Maryland's death row were in Baltimore County.
This Baltimore County prosecutor directed the trial of Kirk Bloodsworth, who was sentenced to die in March 1985 when he was 24 years old. Mr. Bloodsworth protested his innocence from the beginning, just as Eugene Colvin-el did, and was set free in June 1993 after DNA testing confirmed his innocence.
A moratorium on Maryland death penalty executions should be ordered by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, and a higher governmental authority should investigate the partisan and vindictive abuse of prosecutorial discretion on the part of the office of the Baltimore County State's Attorney's Office.
Jerome S. Rauch Baltimore
As a Republican member of the Judiciary Committee of the Maryland House of Delegates from Baltimore in 1956, I voted for the death penalty for first-degree murder.
I still believe that the death sentence should be applied, fairly and sparingly, in appropriate cases.
But after 44 years, I have begun to question whether there should be further safeguards in the law to insure the even and fair application of this lethal punishment.
In one jurisdiction, the state's attorney rarely seeks the death penalty; in another, it is sought much more often.
For especially heinous crimes such as contract murders, some criminals get life sentences while others are executed.
I urge Gov. Parris N. Glendening to declare a moratorium on the use of the death penalty until an objective study of its fairness has been completed by a commission appointed by the governor or the University of Maryland.
Samuel A. Culotta