LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Early releases didn't endanger public safety

I feel it is necessary to both reassure the public and respond to the newspaper in light of The Sun's front-page article "Md. prisons miscalculate release date for inmates" (Dec. 23).

The placement of the story at the top of the front page and its too-general headline may have given readers the impression the Division of Corrections just lets every inmate out early and unsupervised to commit new crimes and wreak havoc. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We absolutely do not dispute the results of the legislative audit, and we intend to thoroughly re-examine our policies, retrain our employees if necessary and correct and eliminate errors in calculating release credits. However, to say that this is simple math or "addition and subtraction" is a gross misrepresentation.

The awarding of credits, many of which were earned years ago - before the computer age - combined with the constantly changing sentences of some inmates and the often confusing legal interpretations we get from the courts, make the computation of credits much more difficult than most people realize.

Our dedicated commitment staff of fewer than 70 people handles approximately 14,000 intakes and releases every year, oversees nearly 7,000 case reviews based on court decisions and keeps track of 24,000 incarcerated men and women on any given day.

Throw in Court of Appeals decisions, overlapping sentences and modified sentences, and the process of calculating credits for release is anything but simple.

What the article didn't point out is that more than one-third of the 22 erroneous releases in question were miscalculated by less than one week, meaning eight inmates served only one to five days more or less than they should have.

The article also did not say that the auditors who did the report began their job utterly confused about the diminution credit issue. They had no idea how our people were able to comprehend such a complex issue, and told them they admired them for their work.

In addition, the article did not point out as clearly - or as early - as we would have hoped what the auditors noted in their final report: that public safety was not adversely impacted, and that not one of the inmates whose releases were early committed a crime in the time between the erroneous and correct release dates.

The article also did not mention perhaps the most important safeguard to the public when an inmate is released: that virtually every inmate goes directly to a parole and probation agent for supervision in the community.

We do not make it a practice to simply let an inmate out to fend for himself or herself without a plan for support and supervision.

It is absolutely wrong for inmates to serve even one day less or more than legally mandated, and we remain committed to improving the system where necessary. We will work to correct the problems found by the audit.

But the public need not worry that we let inmates out willy-nilly. Our system is a good one, and one that is committed to public safety.

Mary Ann Saar

Baltimore

The writer is secretary of Maryland's Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Aid budget reveals perverse priorities

Watching the news about the disaster in the Indian Ocean, I had to pinch myself to be certain I was not dreaming ("A desperate search for aid as tsunami fatalities double," Dec. 29).

The United States can spend more than $100 billion to invade, destroy and occupy a nation (Iraq) but will give less than 1 percent of that mind-boggling amount to help rebuild several nations affected by this tragedy.

This speaks volumes about our national priorities.

Patrick M. Radomsky

Essex

An awful moment for inaugural galas

Nature's cruel blow in South Asia has left countless numbers in need of food, shelter and medical care ("A desperate search for aid as tsunami fatalities double," Dec. 29).

What a profound message of sympathy and caring it would give to the world if a major portion of the funds to be used for the president's inaugural extravaganza were allocated instead for relief efforts.

How can we justify partying at lavish galas while those with the least are suffering the most on one side of the globe, and on the other, young Americans and Iraqi civilians are dying in ever-greater numbers in a war of dubious merit?

To begin the New Year on a note of opulence is an indication that a modern-day Nero is playing his fiddle.

But for how long?

Janet Heller

Baltimore

Waves bring tragedy much closer to home

For hours last Sunday, I hovered at the edge of my worst nightmare while thousands of others lived theirs. That morning, we awoke to the news of a devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia. My son, a teacher in Japan, was on vacation with friends in Sri Lanka.

We are nearly accustomed to news of this sort from many places on Earth, places we know mostly from the labels in our clothing.

We think of them - foreign, almost fictional. We think of them, so often selected for disaster. And as the news goes to commercial, with relief we go along with it, hoping faintly that we are somehow protected and everything will be all right.

I imagined every possible thing, every circumstance, every logistic. I was lulled only by knowing that this event was a force of nature - a horror we did not create. But we do create the equivalent - right now, we are the designers of devastation, disguised by arrogance.

As humans, we have free will. As Americans, we have power. What's confusing is how we use it. We seem prepared, or at least willing, to alienate these places of adversity - places such as Rwanda, Cambodia or Sudan, such as Iraq or Afghanistan - so we may more comfortably believe we are right, deserving of prosperity, immune to natural disaster. But we know we are not.

Maybe it's fear that disorients our priorities, that values aid less than weapons. Or maybe it's the knowledge that much is beyond our control; a belief that compassion and patience, anguish and understanding are weak.

I heard news, via Ireland, that my son and his friends are inland, safe only by luck. I am relieved, but I cannot celebrate.

Judith Kaplan

Glyndon

Christians fill tills of business leaders

I find the comments in the letter "'Happy Holidays' is good for business" (Dec. 26) on "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays" without logic.

The writer refers to the "business community" satisfying the 25 percent of the population that is non-Christian by eliminating "Merry Christmas."

But I do believe that it is the nation's large majority Christian population that is filling the tills of the business leaders, on the back of Christmas.

Stephan A. Favazza

Timonium

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