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On jail and prison, Hogan applies Rodricks' Law

The Baltimore City jail complex, which retains its Gothic tower from the 19th century, is seen looking east from the top of Washington Monument in 2016. To slide back and forth from past to present, <a href="http://retrobaltimore.tumblr.com/post/145702778644/now-and-then-pictures-baltimore-jail-complex" target="_blank">click here</a>.
The Baltimore City jail complex, which retains its Gothic tower from the 19th century, is seen looking east from the top of Washington Monument in 2016. To slide back and forth from past to present, click here. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Nobody asked me, but Gov. Larry Hogan's decisions not to rebuild the Baltimore City Detention Center and to downsize the state prison in Hagerstown sound like the way to go. I invoke Rodricks' Law on this. It's a variation on Parkinson's Law, which states that "work expands to fill the time available for its completion." Rodricks' law states: "Prisoner population expands to fill the space available for them." Basically, if we build it, they will come. I realize that saying fewer cells means fewer prisoners sounds like wishful thinking, but we went too long the other way. It's well past time to focus on smarter sentencing, alternative sentencing, and a holistic approach to preparing offenders for successful re-entry into the community.

Nobody asked me, but few pleasures match a stroll through the Enoch Pratt Free Library on a winter afternoon. The central library was busy but quiet — as it should be — on Friday, with men and women leaning intently into books, and three of the four computers in the Jobs and Career Center occupied. The Pratt system is more than books. It provides a safe, comfortable place; it's used for literacy and after-school programs and as a resource for job hunters. After the rioting of April 2015, one of the pledges made to the city by the state was an additional $3 million annually for an expansion of hours at some of the branches. According to the Pratt, 15 of its 22 locations are open only five days a week, and the Clifton branch is open only 17 hours a week. It's a shame Hogan cut the Pratt funds from his budget proposal. It seems like a relatively small expense for a large purpose.

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Nobody asked me, but it should be pointed out that the two major projects for Baltimore scrapped by Hogan — the $2.9 billion Red Line light rail and the $1.5 billion State Center redevelopment — were both on the drawing boards for about 10 years, during the two terms of Hogan's Democratic predecessor. Martin O'Malley was in office from January 2007 to January 2015. His administration won U.S. approval to begin preliminary engineering for the Red Line in 2011; some $900 million in federal funding was in place by 2012. … As for State Center, its developer says the project was shovel-ready when a ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals cleared the way for work to begin in May 2014, while O'Malley was still in office. That didn't happen, and Hogan, as a member of the Maryland Board of Public Works, voted to pull out of the deal just before Christmas. The developer has now gone to court to force the state to honor its seven-year-old contracts and get the project underway.

Nobody asked me, but, based on what I've seen and heard of the new president, his actions seem to be driven by spite more than anything else: reversing Obama administration directives and orders not because they were bad policy, but simply because they were the previous president's actions. And Donald J. Trump might have made nice with President Barack Obama since the election, but let's not forget that Trump was the nation's lead birther for several years, and there's no reason to believe he ever recovered from that obsession with the 44th president's legitimacy. Until we see evidence to the contrary, there's no need to look much beyond the visceral to understand most of what Trump does.

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Nobody asked me, but there's a serious lack of speed enforcement in Baltimore. It's something that became more apparent to me over the last year, as I switched from driver to bus rider and pedestrian. The problems at the Pepsi sign on Interstate 83, described by reporter Colin Campbell in The Baltimore Sun on Tuesday, might be due to the curve in the highway, but let's not overlook the many drivers who speed north and south. (The 5:30-6:30 a.m. hour might be the worst.) Hogan doesn't seem inclined to help Baltimore in any big way, but here's a small suggestion: Support the City Council resolution to have state troopers patrol more of the JFX.

One last thing about I-83: I remain enamored of the idea of tearing down the last leg of that ugly overhead highway, from just south of Madison Street to President Street, replacing it with a tree-lined grand boulevard that serves commuters and bikers while creating an area conducive to city life. Think Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, or Avenida da Liberdade in Lisbon. As envisioned a decade ago by some Baltimore architects, the boulevard would become part of the city's grid of streets, with houses fronting on it. I don't know what happened to them, but the artist's renderings of the Jones Falls Boulevard were stunning.

Nobody asked me, but if you operate a Baltimore restaurant with Maryland crab soup on the menu, your soup better be thick and it better have crab, or else: "No business for you!"

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