Friday, October 15, 2010

The Price of Enlightenment

This week's cover story in the City Paper is a must-read for anyone interested in how vicious predators can continue to prey on citizens even though they've been caught. Written by Hal Riedl, a frequent commentator on this blog, it details the journey of a sexual predator and murderer through a criminal justice system that just doesn't get it.

I first met Riedl in 1998 after I had filed to run against the "Nine Trusted Judges" of Baltimore's Circuit Court who were standing for election. Riedl called me, introduced himself, and explained that he worked for the Department of Public Safety, from which vantage point he could see how judges were sentencing criminals. As we talked, it became eerily clear that his top three "least-trusted' judges were the same top three on my list, though our reasons and perspectives were different.

Riedl tried to help my underdog, unsuccessful campaign as judicial candidate, just as he worked hard for state's attorney candidate Gregg Bernstein. He puts his money where his mouth is.

And on
his own professional front, he constantly advocated for more appropriate handling of violent criminals. He saw not only what judges did with sentences and probation violations, but how hearing officers handled prison violations and parole commissioners parole and revocation hearings. He understood the significance of criminal backgrounds when others didn't or didn't care.

He became a gadfly to his employers. And this year, before writing his article Freeing Willie, Riedl was fired.

The excuse? He had sent an e-mail to Peter Hermann of the Sun regarding a prisoner that corrections officials mistakenly released after he impersonated another inmate. It hit the media last winter, and Riedl provided some factual details to Hermann about the release along with his interpretation of those facts, namely, that they "point glaringly to our stupidity in DOC" and that the release was due to "gross monumental incompetence."

Hermann, this year's "Best Journalist'" (along with Justin Fenton) in the City Paper's Best of Baltimore edition, then inquired about it with Public Safety officials with enough lack of delicacy that they instantly delved into Riedl's e-mail and fingered him.

And despite Riedl's clear First Amendment rights to speak on an issue of public importance, Secretary Gary Maynard fired Riedl. First Amendment rights apply only to those who can pay a lawyer to protect them.

Some will now perceive Riedl as a 'disgruntled' employee, even though Maynard was the disgruntled one. And others will view him with suspicion because he spoke out, because he didn't protect his own interests first like most of the rest of us do.

But Riedl is the kind of guy the public needs to shed light on how their government operates. And even though Maynard took away Riedl's livelihood, he did the rest of us a favor.

Because Riedl can now speak freely. And now we know about Willie Featherstone, and our monumentally incompetent system.


  1. With the trial layers running the Maryland General Assembly, we will never get meaningful and needed reform of the criminal statutes and parole procedures. Maryland needs to do what they federal government did in the 1980' parole, no early out....what you get is what you serve. And in a typical ploy of the MO'M administration, anyone who even utters a word of criticism is summarily dismissed. Maryland voters keep putting the coyotes in the hen house and wonder why the chickens are dead. Another outstanding blog, Page.

  2. This whole business of "diminution credits" needs to be re-thought and reworked. Of course, it is realized that good behavior needs to be reinforced by some positive mechanism, because the correctional officers who are good, like murdered C/O McGuinn, are outnumbered and, often unsupported because higher management often turns a blind eye to lower level problems.
    On the other hand, once you've been released, that should be it! Any diminution credits you may have should be wiped out. You should not be able to apply these to future charges and convictions.
    And, if judges are not going to deal with parole violation and have already determined the retake warrant will be merged with whatever, what's the point in having them on parole, or, for that matter, even violating them.
    This whole approach does not to anything to "correct" behavior by sentencing t the Division of Correction. It becomes a numbers game of paperwork processing.

    Anybody with any experience in criminal justice, except those who are naive or blinded by their own ideology, can, after a few minutes determine miscreants who are violent, incorrigible, and likely repeat offenders. And, frankly, we don't really know how to rehabilitate some of them. Clearly dimunition credits, meaningless parole, and unenforced probations are not teh way.

    On the otherr hand, we, Marylanders, the Taxpayers, need to look in the mirror as we whine. Citizens of the wealthiest state do not want their taxes raised to pay for more prisoners. Wonder if someone has told some judges that!?

  3. Maybe we can have our cake and eat it too. If we want more room in prison for dangerous criminals, maybe we can make that room by decriminalizing non-violent drug addicts. How do we help them or ourselves by locking them up in the same facilities as armed robbers, murderers, and rapists?