LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

The Baltimore Sun

Past time to fix juvenile justice

My memory is that Maryland has been "reforming" its juvenile justice system for the past 20 years - e.g., privatizing the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School and then bringing it back under state control, doing the same thing with the Victor Cullen Center, addressing the abuse at juvenile boot camps and closing the Bowling Brook Preparatory School. And now we see recurring issues at the Baltimore Juvenile Justice Center ("Violence at juvenile center up again," March 28).

Isn't anyone getting tired of all this?

Let's call the situation what it is - a crisis.

And let's stop justifying the statistics and making excuses for decades-long incompetence.

The secretary of the Department of Juvenile Services was quoted as saying that the situation is easy to criticize but hard to correct.

Yes, it is easy to criticize when, in the first quarter of the year, with an average daily population of about 120 youths, the Baltimore Juvenile Justice Center has 155 youth-on-youth assaults, 28 youth-on-staff assaults, 11 group disturbances and 234 uses of physical restraints.

Two hundred thirty-four restraints? Isn't just one restraint what killed a youth at Bowling Brook?

The Sun's article notes that the definitions of types of incidents may be too broad.

But does that explain the fact that youth-on-staff assaults were up more than three times in the first quarter of 2008 over the number for the first quarter of 2007?

This is like the movie Groundhog Day - we just keep waking up and seeing the same thing over and over again.

Then something horrible will happen and politicians will get on their soapbox for an acceptable period of time, money will be spent to smooth over the pain, and then we'll go back to the same old, same old.

Let's fix the problem.

Brian Trees

Timonium

The writer is a former program director at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School.

Investing in youths pays big dividends

By including $7.6 million in his fiscal 2009 supplemental budget to fully fund the Maryland Infants and Toddlers program, Gov. Martin O'Malley has demonstrated his strong commitment to one of our state's most vulnerable populations ("Amid budget struggle, O'Malley ups 'core' spending request," April 1).

Local Infants and Toddlers programs in every Maryland jurisdiction provide support to children with disabilities and their families, giving them the best possible chance to succeed in school and community life.

The program is a critical component in the Maryland State Department of Education's commitment to preparing all children to enter school ready to learn and is recognized by families and community partners as an effective system of supports and services for young children with developmental delays and disabilities.

With increased state funding, local Infants and Toddlers Programs will have the capacity to provide comprehensive early intervention services to meet the unique needs of eligible children and their families.

This investment will have long-term benefits and will avoid future costs for many of these families.

Nancy S. Grasmick

Annapolis

The writer is state superintendent of schools.

Owners must ensure kids can't get guns

As the parent of a young child who attends the Baltimore County schools, I was alarmed to read about the incident involving a 7-year old bringing a loaded handgun to school ("Pupil, 7, found with guns; Randallstown school calm," April 2).

No one should be calm about such an event. It is only good fortune that prevented the death or serious injury of a child in this incident.

But I was equally surprised to read that Baltimore County police would even consider charging the 7-year-old with a crime.

The person who may be a criminal in this case is the adult owner of the gun, a person who may have negligently allowed a young child to get access to this deadly weapon.

Gun safety is a vital public health issue.

Exposure to possible criminal and civil penalties, and perhaps public shame, is necessary to induce gun owners to take appropriate precautions to secure their weapons to ensure that innocent children will not be injured or killed by an adult's decision to keep a gun in his or her home.

Joseph E. Marine

Cockeysville

Ballot box is place to exert public will

I never thought I'd find myself agreeing with Vice President Dick Cheney. But he and White House spokeswoman Dana Perino are correct on one point: A president's actions cannot be driven by opinion polls ("Poll Positions," Opinion

Commentary, April 1).

The United States is a federal constitutional republic, not a direct democracy.

Under the Constitution, we have the right every four years to elect a president and a vice president whom we think will govern best.

That's when our opinion counts.

Once they are elected, we let our officials govern, based on their wisdom, knowledge and access to advisers and information, including secret intelligence to which the public is not privy.

We elected President Bush, who said he was not interested in "nation-building," along with Mr. Cheney.

They failed us, not by refusing to be swayed by public opinion, but by consistently ignoring the advice of their best advisers and the content of the best intelligence available to them.

In 2004, we had a chance to remove them for their mistakes but chose not to do so.

This time, we'd better be more careful and elect someone who can think for himself or herself and has a plan to fix what Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney have broken - in a way that's best both for us and for Iraq over the long term.

Jeffry D. Mueller

Eldersburg

Basra battle showed al-Sadr is real boss

President Bush called last week's all-out street fighting in Basra and Baghdad "a defining moment."

I agree. And what it defined was this: that Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia can outfight Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Iraqi national army, which still needs American and British military backup; that the United States and Mr. al-Maliki's government are only nominally in control of Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone; that Iraq's relative calm over the past several months is attributable primarily to Mr. al-Sadr's cease-fire order, not to the surge in U.S. combat troops; and that Mr. al-Sadr is the most influential leader in Iraq.

Grenville B. Whitman

Rock Hall

Advice about AIDS comes too late

The Sun's editorial "Preventing AIDS" (March 31) was on the mark, too late and completely hypocritical.

The editorial is on the mark because the prevalence of AIDS and the number of new AIDS cases in Baltimore are both tragic and preventable.

The editorial is too late because for decades the residents of the city have lagged behind their counterparts elsewhere in preventing the transmission of the disease.

The editorial is completely hypocritical because The Sun has gone out of its way to give a free pass to Sen. Barack Obama and his hate-mongering pastor who, among other things, preached to his congregation that AIDS was used by the U.S. government as a means to wage biological war against its own citizens ("Obama and his pastor," editorial, March 19).

It's exactly this type of misinformation that leads folks to feel powerless in confronting this disease, and both The Sun and Mr. Obama would have served this nation well if they had rebuked this nonsense early and often.

Michael DeCicco

Severn

Correction

The Wednesday letter "Practicing on pigs protects human life" misstated the number of lives lost to murder annually in the United States.

According to the FBI, the correct total for 2006 was 17,034.

The Sun regrets the error.

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