Monday, May 14, 2012

A Neighborhood's Frustration

When I first began this blog the thing I learned first was how illiberal liberal folks could be.

I began on Marc Steiner's Center for Emerging Media website, and almost instantly Marc got flak from liberal groups.  Even Marc himself suggested that I wanted to lock everybody up and "throw away the key."

I know this isn't unique.  I saw in yesterday's paper that many educated people are unhappy that eminent Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson will speak at Emory University because they disagree with his views on evolutionary biology and ethics.  It's astonishing how people choose to stop up their ears to those with other perspectives.

Funny thing is, if liberals read my blog with open minds they would see that I am no Attila-the-Hun.  I support improved prisoner re-entry programs, bail reform, effective alternatives to incarceration, a radically new approach to drug crimes, reducing the barrier of criminal records to employment, and so forth.

But I do believe that there are people who need to be locked up for the public's safety and well-being.  Not forever (for most), but until the period of their greatest dangerousness passes.  This makes liberals scream.  They want more rehabilitation and prevention programs. 

Fine.  There's no conflict there.  But the existing criminal justice system still needs to improve its focus, prioritization and performance right now with the resources at hand.

Two young criminals are scheduled for trial on gun charges today, men who were brought to my attention by the Washington Village Development Association (WVDA.)  WVDA has been as active an anti-crime neighborhood group as I have ever seen.  They monitor the activities and cases of drug dealers and violent criminals, go to court, lobby police, prosecutors and legislators for action, and send e-mails to judges to voice their displeasure, e-mails like this one:
...On 1/24/2011, the Court sentenced [Robert] Uzzell to seven (7) years in jail.  However, The Dishonorable Circuit Court Judge, Pamela (I’m-going-to-legalize-drugs-from-my-bench) White, suspend [sic] the jail sentence—placing Uzzell on three (3) years of supervised probation and returning him to the streets of Baltimore...[Emphasis in the original.]
What prompted the WVDA e-mail was Uzzell's arrest on gun charges while on Judge White's probation. And the fact that  at the time Judge White put him on probation he had just finished another probation for drug dealing, with a prior arrest for using a gun to deal drugs.

A co-defendant, Corey Gibson, was also on probation for possessing over 65 units of cocaine and marijuana, a felony.  Judge Timothy Doory gave him probation without a conviction for this, something I don't criticize.  If the young man really wanted to turn his life around, not having a felony conviction would help him get a job.

But Doory didn't care much about the job thing after all.  When Gibson was arrested again Doory did nothing because the new charges were dropped.  Prosecutor Nancy Olin mentioned to Doory that Gibson had made no effort to find a job while on probation but failed to argue for any enforcement of this requirement.  Doory merely hoped that being in jail for three months on the new arrest had "gotten [Gibson's] attention."

What a tired, typical excuse for inaction.  Less than a month later Gibson and Uzzell were charged with gun crimes. Their level of dangerousness, and WVDA's frustration, is escalating.

Then there's 36-year-old career criminal Larry Lloyd, a likely addict who is less of a violent threat than Uzzell and Gibson but nevertheless a bane to the WVDA.  His many, many arrests for drug possession, drug-dealing, loitering, assault, harassment, etc. have resulted in short jail sentences, probation, more probation, or dismissals.  He's had plenty of chances at drug treatment and turning himself around, to no avail.  

A few years ago Lloyd was put on probation, convicted again while on probation, and returned to probation by Judge Lynn Stewart.  Then police charged him with felony drug charges, only to have the case dropped last December.

Why?  Because Judge Gale Rasin suppressed the evidence.  I listened to the hearing, expecting to find that the police had botched the case.  Instead I found that it was Rasin who botched Fourth Amendment analysis.  It's the second time I've seen this judge fail to follow the law to reach a result she personally preferred.  Basically, she ruled that the police can't approach a suspect and tell him they heard he had drugs on him without instantly violating his rights.

Nevertheless, WVDA says that prosecutors raised their hopes by promising to charge Lloyd with violating Judge Stewart's probation.  They never followed through. 

It's hard to blame WVDA for ill-tempered e-mails with experiences like these.   Are they supposed to wait for some new social programs to deal with the Uzzells, Gibsons, and Lloyds of their community?

Or could the criminal justice system at least be trying to do a better job right now?