SATURDAY MAILBOX

The Baltimore Sun

Overuse of prisons harms black men

In his column about the documentary What Black Men Think, Gregory Kane suggests that the Justice Policy Institute's work publicizing the sobering statistics about African-American men and their representation in U.S. prisons vs. U.S. universities is misleading ("New film gets men thinking, talking," Aug. 29). He even implies that my group's work is the reason for a scene in the movie in which black people told the documentarian, Janks Morton, that there were more African-American men in jail than in universities.

But according to the U.S. Justice Department, there were 791,000 African-American men in prison and jail in 2002. At that same time, the National Center on Education Statistics reported that there were 603,000 African-American men in universities. The comparison serves as a reminder of the impact of the massive social investment the government is making in prisons instead of universities and of the community most negatively impacted by these policies.

Professor Bruce Western of Princeton University also showed in a 2003 study that, given current incarceration rates, African-American men born in the late 1960s were more likely to have a prison record than a college degree.

Also in 2003, a Justice Department study found that if incarceration rates continued at current levels, almost one-third of African American men (32 percent) born in this decade would serve time in prison at some point in their life, compared with 6 percent of whites.

In Baltimore, half of all young African-American men are under some form of control by the criminal justice system.

I believe such sobering realities are the real reason African-Americans would tell a documentarian that there are more black men in prison than in college.

The real issue here, however, is the nation's overuse of incarceration, its unequal impact on communities of color and the role the nation's policies and spending priorities play in creating the reality that there are nearly 800,000 African-American men behind bars.

Jason Ziedenberg

Washington

The writer is the executive director of the Justice Policy Institute.

Stigma on prisoners hampers re-entry

It's always interesting when elected officials do the right thing for the wrong reasons ("State to change policy on prisoners' release," Aug. 29).

It is truly insane to release prisoners with $50 in their pocket and expect them to get an inter-city bus home, pay for meals, find a home and get a job.

For those without any support system outside the prison (the situation faced by many people who have been incarcerated for a significant period of time), it's also a recipe for causing them to turn back to criminal behavior to survive.

At the very least, it would have made sense a long time ago to move prisoners as close to home as possible before their release. Of course, it would also make sense for them to be closer to home to begin with so that their families could visit and maintain relationships more readily - a strategy proven to help former prisoners avoid getting into trouble again.

It should have been a no-brainer for newly elected Gov. Martin O'Malley to address such issues months ago. Instead, it took just one intolerant and irrational statement by Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, and the governor acted immediately.

Mr. Bruchey's statements reflect the kind of attitude that has brought this country to the place where we have the highest incarceration rate in the industrialized world and a greater percentage of our black population in prison than South Africa did during apartheid.

About 14,000 people are released from Maryland prisons every year. They are going to live somewhere.

Yes, most come back to their home communities, which are often in Baltimore. But we are, in theory at least, still a nation where people have the right to live where they choose.

And if we really want less crime, we need to stop treating those coming out of prison as if they are unredeemable.

Dottye Burt-Markowitz

Baltimore

The writer is a consultant for Alternative Directions Inc., a nonprofit group that helps former prisoners make the transition to life in the community.

Early releases pose threat to our safety

If a judge who is a lawyer cannot understand the system of mandatory supervision that will free Arthur Bremer 18 years before the end of his sentence even though he failed to earn parole and refused psychological treatment during his 35 years of incarceration, then how can the average citizen understand it ("Sentencing system defrauds the public," letters, Aug. 31)?

Even those of us who work in public safety struggle with the absurdity of a system that regularly releases violent offenders returned to the Division of Corrections with outstanding parole violations including serious criminal charges - in the worst cases even before the Parole Commission is able to conduct a revocation hearing - all because the system does not turn off the good-time credit spigot.

As Judge Dana M. Levitz pointed out, the legislature created this problem. But surely no legislator could have intended this all-too-common scenario that makes a mockery of any kind of effective community supervision and seriously compromises public safety.

The efforts of some in the public safety field who have repeatedly urged legislative remedies to this broken system have gotten little traction.

Perhaps Judge Levitz's high-profile voice, along with the upcoming release of Mr. Bremer, will prompt a new governor and a new secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to finally give this public safety emergency the attention it deserves.

Richard E. Wachter

Baltimore

The writer is a field supervisor for the division of parole and probation of the Department of Safety and Correctional Services.

New laws no cure for mortgage mess

Once again, the beneficent powers in our nanny state fly to the rescue. And now it seems we will have additional legislation to prevent nasty brokers from snookering more unsuspecting people into mortgage loans that they can't re-pay ("Lending reforms explored in Md.," Aug. 30).

There was nothing wrong initially, years ago, when lenders began to experiment with subprime loans to open the housing market to borrowers with less-than-stellar credit. After all, people across the financial spectrum need a chance to buy a home. But, as is often the case, a good thing went too far, and unscrupulous people took advantage of the situation without regard for the long-term interests of the buyers.

Greedy and stupid people in the national financial community supplied the false sense of economic bravado behind this subprime lending movement.

But you cannot legislate away either the immorality of some of the people who sold these loans or the ignorance of some of those who took them.

Maryland does not need more real estate legislation.

What we do need are a less interventionist legislature, more honest brokers and a much better system of public financial education.

Frank O'Keefe

Baltimore

Chinese Sister City is a very nice port

The 36 dedicated Baltimore-area volunteers who constitute our Baltimore-Xiamen Sister City Committee were appalled to read Laura Vozzella's column "Our sister city is not a nice girl" (Sept. 2).

Her remarks on Xiamen mainly concerned an anti-corruption case against a wealthy individual that was initiated by China's government in 1999 and dragged on for years.

Not only is this very old news but the story is really a positive example of China's continuing efforts to clean up its business practices. And to the best of my knowledge, there was nothing in this case that had any connection to Baltimore.

In 1985, Mayor William Donald Schaefer led a delegation of education, cultural, business and other city leaders to Xiamen to sign a sister city agreement.

The relationship had been recommended and approved by Sister Cities International, a nonprofit group set up by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956 to increase global cooperation and mutual understanding at the grassroots level.

At the time, Xiamen was one of only four "Special Economic Zones" in China established by the government to welcome foreign investment and trade, so those of us who accompanied Mr. Schaefer (and I was among that group) considered this link a coup for Baltimore.

Today, Xiamen is a thriving and beautiful port city with more than 2 million residents. Since 1985, there have been numerous student, teacher, cultural and business exchanges between Baltimore and Xiamen.

The Baltimore-Xiamen relationship is a wonderful example of our global community in the best tradition of Mr. Eisenhower's wise vision. And Xiamen is a great sister city.

W. Fontaine Bell

Baltimore

The writer is chairman of the Baltimore-Xiamen Sister City Committee.

Graduation option devalues diploma

With her proposal to offer a senior project as an alternative road to graduation for students who can't pass the High School Assessment tests, Maryland's top educator has lost sight of what should be her primary goal - educating Maryland's children so that they can become functioning adults who contribute to our society ("Some fear dilution of testing mandate," Aug. 30).

This alternative plan would devalue the high school diploma and render it virtually meaningless as proof of preparedness for the work world.

State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick needs to be reminded that her job is to educate, not to issue meaningless diplomas so that she can boast of increasing graduation rates.

Our children are not unteachable.

But they require trained, committed teachers and the resources needed to enhance their learning experience.

Karen Holloway

Baltimore

New option an asset to special-needs kids

The debate over state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick's proposal to offer an alternative project as a graduation option for students who cannot pass one or more of the High School Assessment tests has so far largely overlooked the disenfranchising effect the tests have on special-education students and other students who are handicapped by learning disabilities ("Reassessing the tests," editorial, Aug. 30).

Since the program's inception, the HSA tests have not been constructed in alternative formats to accommodate students with special needs.

Accommodations in the form of extra time or having questions read aloud are available. But the test format remains essentially the same, and the test must still be completed in one school day.

My daughter is a junior and an honor-roll student, with a GPA of 3.5, at Catonsville High School, one of the top-ranked high schools in the state.

She has passed biology, U.S. government, English and Algebra I classes. Yet after multiple attempts, she has not yet passed any of the HSAs - usually missing the passing mark by only a few points.

All of our daughter's teachers remark on what a diligent and hardworking student she is. But because of her inability to rapidly process large amounts of information presented in long sessions, she has not yet been successful on the HSAs.

Unfortunately, the state and our local school district were completely unprepared to handle the needs of my daughter, who has been mainstreamed since seventh grade, and of other special-education students when the state mandated the HSAs as a graduation requirement for all students.

Ms. Grasmick's proposal for an HSA alternative, one that could help our daughter receive a diploma, is a welcome one in our household - especially given that we have put in countless hours of extra work tutoring our daughter and petitioning school boards and school administrators for help.

Those who worry about a reduction in standards need to remember the families across the state who have been working very hard to help their children to pass the tests - but to no avail.

Scott Appelbaum Virginia Appelbaum Catonsville

Epilepsy not always a disabling disease

The Aug. 31 Sun reported that Baltimore County's Board of Appeals had upheld the county's decision to designate Officer Phillip Crumbacker, a 20-year veteran of the Baltimore County Police Department who had two seizures in 2004, for disability retirement ("Court rules against epileptic officer," Aug. 31).

Although he is on medication and has not had a seizure in two years, according to The Sun, several doctors testified that Mr. Crumbacker has a 25 percent to 30 percent chance of having another seizure and the board found his risk of incapacity "too great" for him to return to work.

If the facts of Mr. Crumbacker's case are as stated in the article, the doctors are wrong.

A citizen who has not had a seizure in six months is permitted to drive by the state Motor Vehicle Administration.

If a person has not had a seizure in two years, the chances of a recurrence are between 2 percent and 4 percent. Such an individual can live, and should be permitted to live, a full and normal life, without restrictions.

Mr. Crumbacker is no different in this regard. He is not disabled or even handicapped by his epilepsy.

Baltimore County is perpetuating the disproved myth that epilepsy is always a disabling condition.

Dr. John M. Freeman

Baltimore

The writer is a former president of the Epilepsy Foundation of the Chesapeake Region and a former director of the Pediatric Epilepsy Center at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Slots give racing chance to compete

While it is encouraging to read that The Sun believes that the horse racing business in Maryland is worth trying to save, the editorial "Two distinct questions" (Aug. 16) continues to demonstrate the paper's fundamental lack of understanding of the industry.

Today, there is tremendous competition for the gambling and entertainment dollar. Like most industries (including the newspaper business), racing has had to adapt to a changing world and marketplace.

The measure of success for racing today is not live attendance and handle (just as The Sun's success is not measured by newsstand sales); rather, it is the all-source handle.

Betting is now done through simulcast centers at racetracks, at off-track facilities, through telephone account wagering and advance deposit wagering sites, on the Internet and at international sites.

The key for any racetrack and its horsemen and breeders is to have a product to export that has value in the market. And this is where Maryland racing historically has been strong but is now threatened.

Simulcasting revenue is the largest component of income for the industry. The simulcast handle increases on days when live racing is conducted, which is one reason live racing is so vital.

The revenue from simulcasting and other non-live racing income does not go solely to the track operators, as The Sun's editorial asserts. It is divided, with 6 percent going to breeders, 47 percent used for purses and 47 percent going to the track operator.

The Sun argues that slots have done nothing to fuel the growth of the betting on horse racing in neighboring states. But as the Perez report clearly documents, nothing could be further from the truth.

For example, by all measures, horse racing in Delaware and West Virginia was moribund before slots were legalized at tracks in those states.

But since the legalization of slots at Delaware Park, betting on horse racing has risen by more than $100 million in Delaware. In West Virginia, where racing had virtually ceased before slots were legalized, betting has increased by more than $261 million.

One final point: There are 10 states on the East Coast that conduct horse racing. Seven of those states now use slot machines to help support racing.

This is the competitive playing field on which Maryland racing competes. But unlike private industries and businesses that can address competitive circumstances and diversify without restriction, racing is regulated by state government.

The horse racing and breeding industry has been an integral part of the social, historic and economic fabric of this state for more than a century. It brings national and international recognition to Maryland.

Unless the state gives the racing industry the ability to compete on a level playing field, this tradition will end.

Alan M. Foreman

Baltimore

The writer is counsel to the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.

Let theistic doubters come out of closet

For the major and last part of her life, while she took care of the poor and dying in India, Mother Teresa lived through a crisis of doubt about God's existence ("A conversation with the Almighty," Opinion

Commentary, Sept. 2).

This has recently become well-known because of the publication of a book, edited by a close friend, of her intimate correspondence.

In dozens of letters, Mother Teresa told her friends she could not hear God's voice and felt empty and dark.

In no way does this crisis in her life damage the value of her good works. Nothing could - as they speak for themselves. But it does speak by comparison to the shameful way agnostics and atheists are treated in public throughout the world.

If they admit what they think, they risk being shunned and denounced as evil and untrustworthy.

Unless they keep their beliefs in the closet, they cannot successfully run for public office, or even PTA president.

This is malicious and discriminatory.

If Mother Teresa - who is being sponsored for sainthood - could harbor grave doubts about the existence of God, and if pious-speaking politicians and self-serving religious leaders are often shown to be hypocritical frauds, is it not time to let us atheists and agnostics out of the closet?

Philip L. Marcus

Columbia

Is the Mideast now open to peace?

In their column "A new opening for Mideast peace" (Opinion

Commentary, Sept. 4), U.S. Rep. James Moran and Rabbi Marc Gopin make several questionable assertions.

Among these points are:

According to Mr. Moran and Rabbi Gopin, "Polls have always indicated that the majority of Palestinians and Israelis were in favor of a two-state solution."

While that has been true generally of Israeli public opinion since the start of the Oslo process in 1993, Palestinian majorities or pluralities often have favored a "two-state solution" that includes the "right of return" of Arab refugees and their descendants to what is now Israel, which would destroy the Jewish state demographically.

Mr. Moran and Rabbi Gopin claim "we need a mini-Marshall Plan for Palestine that will appeal to secular and religious Palestinians alike."

But a "mini-Marshall Plan" already has been attempted, with the United States, European Union, Japan and other countries pouring billions of dollars into the roughly Delaware-size area of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

And the marked economic gains Palestinians saw from 1993 through 1999 did not dissuade Palestinian leaders from launching the al-Aqsa intifada terror war in 2000.

The writers note that "most Palestinians want reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas as well as new elections" and so the United States "must speak to the majority - not simply Fatah."

But the Fatah-Hamas "unity government" collapsed in June when Hamas drove Fatah out of the Gaza Strip in a five-day war.

And now, as Mr. Moran and Rabbi Gopin urge American outreach to supporters of Hamas-Fatah reconciliation, Israeli and Arab newspapers report Hamas infiltration of the Fatah-led West Bank security forces in preparation for a possible purge there.

Mr. Moran and Rabbi Gopin take as a positive sign remarks by Syrian leaders suggesting that their country might participate in a fall Arab-Israeli conference called by President Bush.

But Damascus has a history of using diplomatic feints to buy time. And Syria now may be seeking to lessen U.S. pressure over its support for the Iraqi insurgency and deflect attention from the international investigation implicating Syria in assassinations of Lebanese politicians.

Meanwhile, Syria hosts Hamas' terrorist leadership and collaborates with Iran and Hezbollah.

The writers call for "honest engagement" that includes those in the Middle East who "can undo the delicate process of rapprochement," and claim that "truly comprehensive peace is the order of the day."

This would seem to imply that the leaders of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Syria, Iran and Hezbollah do not mean what they say and do.

Eric Rozenman

Washington

The writer is the Washington director for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

U.S. Rep. James Moran and Rabbi Marc Gopin are right to laud the president's efforts to forge a Palestinian "political horizon" and convene a peace conference. They also correctly delineate a more complete approach to lasting peace.

Such an approach will require the United States to appeal to Hamas' constituency and provide Palestinians with more economic aid to help draw them into the moderate fold.

To produce a sustainable peace, the United States also will have to deal directly with the region's spoilers.

Israelis and Palestinians also have responsibilities.

Israelis must halt settlement expansion and greatly reduce the number of its West Bank checkpoints.

Palestinians must consolidate and professionalize their security services and ensure transparent government.

Establishing a Palestinian state is in the interest of all parties.

Failing to do so would empower extremists in the region and further shift the conflict from a national to a religious one.

Michael Day

Washington

The writer is a research assistant for the American Task Force on Palestine.

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