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How can we solve America's prison problems?

There is something terribly wrong with our prison system in the United States and, frankly, I don't know who to blame. Federal judges should not be telling states and local jurisdictions what they must do.

In my opinion, all judges should be legally required to impose stiff fines and performance of public services instead of prison time on all persons convicted for non-violent crimes instead of prison time. This would greatly relieve our need for more prisons. If there are too many prisoners for the available public service jobs, let them clean up the trash on our streets and highways. Also they should get no pay for these public service jobs.

The military has abandoned many military bases and plans to abandon many more. Let us request the federal government to sell or lease these bases to the states for use as prisons. In my opinion, a convicted criminal does not deserve better quarters than members of our armed forces which appears to be the case at the present time. It is time to reverse this injustice.

I would suggest that you write to senators Bob Graham and Connie Mack, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C. 20510, and your representative (get his or her name from your public library if you do not know the name), House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. 20515, to ask them to solve our overcrowded prisons problems.

Bill Angle Sr., New Port Richey

Re: Planning a strategy for Florida's troubled prisons, by Tom Gustafson, Feb. 6.

I agree with much of what Speaker Gustafson wrote, and would add the following thoughts for consideration.

For those individuals who are convicted of non-violent crimes, re-institute prison camps based on the model of the old Civilian Conservation Corps of the '30s, but, with strict supervision and guards. (I hasten to add that members of the CCC were not prisoners but were individuals who were trying to earn a living and a trade during the great depression.)

These prisoners should be assigned work to help repair our rapidly deteriorating infrastructure and clean up the environment. They should not be assigned "banker's hours" but made to learn what hard work is all about. Several evenings per week should be mandatory attendance at counselling sessions to hopefully help them to prepare to become productive citizens upon their release.

Such a plan would certainly help repair our roads, clean up our parks and beaches, etc., which it appears that our legislators and governor are loathe to find the funds to get the job done. It would also let the violators know that they are not going to spend their time in prison watching TV and playing cards.

Guy M. Hunicutt, Seminole

The honorable governor wishes to construct 9,417 new prison beds, but needs money.

Again, he has expressed an ambitious land-buying program, needing $3.2-billion, but needs money.

No problem.

There is not a street, or avenue, or highway in Florida that does not enjoy the trial runs of those drivers for the Sebring or Daytona races.

Florida could raise $100,000 per day arresting and fining these lead-footed, lane-changing drivers. How about those ambulance drivers screaming their way to the coffee shop? (Noise pollution.)

I about jump out of my skin when tooling along about five miles per hour above the limit when someone comes up alongside and cuts in _ whew!

Sure would like to see Florida do something about these race drivers who lost their way off the race track.

Walter Sikora, Largo

The state of Florida claims it does not have sufficient monies to repair or build roads. The automobile and truck drivers complain about the bad roads.

If the state would start and maintain a program of all law enforcement police, Highway Patrol and deputy sheriffs issuing traffic tickets to any driver who fails to use turn signals when turning left or right or when changing traffic lanes.

Each ticket should have a monetary fine with no recourse except to pay the fine. This program could reduce traffic accidents and would provide extra monies to be applied to building better roads.

K. Schwartz, Port Richey

Amtrak defended

Recently, Amtrak has been severely criticized by local and national politicians, the news media, and some members of the public for the 150-year-old practice of releasing waste from trains along the railroad tracks. I appreciate the concerns that have been raised, and I want the public to know what Amtrak is doing to resolve the issue.

Many of Amtrak's newer cars were specifically designed to release wastes en route to avoid frequent delays that would otherwise be required to empty waste retention tanks. Because there are no proven waste retention systems for long-distance trains currently available anywhere in the world, last July, Amtrak began a research and development effort to identify a system capable of withstanding the rigors of transcontinental train travel. Congress has provided funds specifically for federal study of this problem as well. The ideal system will need to be reliable, easy to maintain, cost effective and capable of operating over long distances _ up to 72 hours _ between cleaning and servicing stops.

We have developed plans to test six different systems from four different firms. They are being manufactured and will be delivered and installed, within the next few months, in test cars selected from different types of equipment Amtrak operates: Superliner, Amfleet II, Heritage, Horizon, and our new Viewliner prototype car. In most cases, the test will require retrofitting an existing toilet and/or retention system. One system to be tested is similar to those in use on aircraft. It is designed for air trips of up to 14 hours; we will find out if it will work on a trip of up to 72 hours.

Once each system has been installed and tested for at least 120 days, we will decide which systems will undergo further tests for an additional 9-12 months. Why so long? We need to assess the system's reliability under all sorts of conditions _ heavy usage in the peak summer travel period and extremely cold weather in states such as Montana and North Dakota.

In addition to the on-board waste disposal system, it will be necessary to design and install equipment servicing facilities around the country to quickly empty and service the toilet systems between trips, and at heavy maintenance facilities to clean and disinfect retention tanks as cars go through their preventive maintenance program.

All these changes will cost millions of dollars. We will provide full cost estimates to congressional committees as soon as costs are known. It is my sincere hope that funds will be made available both for the purchase of new cars to replace the 35-to-40-year-old Heritage fleet and for retrofitting Amtrak's approximately 535 newer cars with full retention toilet systems.

Clearly, these changes will take time as well as money. Since we cannot remove all cars from service at once, and still provide service to the public, we must phase the cars through a retrofit program over a several year period. Meanwhile, it is important to bear in mind that the federal government's investigation of existing practices concluded that they present no significant public health risk or other adverse environmental effect.

This is why we continue to press our case in federal courts to prevent states from enforcing laws which they believe prohibit Amtrak from disposing of wastes along the tracks. To the extent that state laws prohibiting the discharge of wastes from rail cars are held by federal courts to apply to Amtrak, we will of course comply. Unfortunately, in most cases this will mean that we will have to discontinue rail passenger service in those states until we have completed our equipment retrofit program, because compliance is impossible with our existing equipment.

Even if the federal courts rule that Amtrak is exempt from state laws, we will continue our efforts to change our toilets to full retention systems as quickly as possible. However, instead of being forced to suspend service to the public in one or more states, we will be able to maintain passenger service to all 500 Amtrak destinations while we retrofit the cars. We are making every effort to quickly resolve this matter and ask the understanding, patience and support of public officials, media and citizens who are rightly concerned.

W. Graham Claytor Jr., President

Amtrak, Washington, D.C.

More on bankruptcy

Re: Your front-page story on bankruptcy.

Thousands upon thousands of people with no health care insurance and an insurance agent with a $700,000 home and an income of $25,132 a month! The majority of the work force in this state doesn't make $25,000 a year.

Perhaps it's time to reverse those property exemption laws.

Eve Gratton, New Port Richey

On the side of wisdom

Re: The letters in your Feb. 12 issue commenting on the recent article by Arthur Schlesinger about Gov. Cuomo and Bishop Vaughan. I would suggest that the letter writers read the article on page 4 of the religious supplement of your Feb. 10 issue. It is by Rev. Daniel C. Maguire, professor of moral theology at Marquette University, a Jesuit institution. Father Maguire states that "Bishop Vaughan's embarrassing attack on Gov. Mario Cuomo's position is _ from the perspective of Roman Catholic theology _ wrong and unjust. In fact, the governor's stand is just a little on the conservative side of mainstream Catholicism."

His concluding statement is, "In the encounter it is the governor, not the bishop, who stands on the side of Catholic wisdom."

Rev. E.

N. Beers, Seminole

Good luck, engineers

Re: The nuclear alternative, letter to the editor, Feb. 10.

To the engineer beckoning "All aboard the Chernobyl Choo Choo."

Can you say Windscale? Or Brown's Ferry? How about Three Mile Island or Crystal River? I thought you could. But why didn't you in your "Our Friend the Atom" dissertation? Talk about wind power!

"Enlightened" is hardly apt in portraying an industry dominated by mega corporations which profit quite handsomely from both commercial and military nuclear applications, with a history of stunning disregard for mere ecological or even geological factors.

Witness the Diablo Canyon complex, built atop a fault line in California, or the toxins seeping outward from the General Electric nuclear weapons plant in Pinellas County.

Call me paranoid, but I wonder what the technoids will propose when the 20-odd-year lifespan of current nuclear power plants and weapons facilities is spent and must be closed and isolated for centuries due to on-site toxic wastes and absorbed radioactive contamination.

Back to the old drawing board, and oh, bring your wallets? Good luck engineers, you'll need it, as will we all. In the meantime, I'll put on a sweater and sit in the sun.

Claude McCleskey, Largo

In response to the letter from the engineer in Feb. 10 Times which began "Your paranoid anti-nuclear readers will probably be the first ones to scream when rolling blackouts become an everyday affair .

.

." and ended "I told you so .

.

."

Tell it to the ex-residents of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

Mary E. McMullen, St. Petersburg

Andy Rooney

The recent censure and suspension of Andy Rooney might perhaps be the bellwether to an honest investigation into whether or not we have begun a knee-jerk reaction to any suggestion of anti-black sentiment.

I'm not suggesting that we return to the days of Sen. Bilbo or anything like that; this is not a hate letter. Nor am I suggesting that we condone overt hate-mongering in any form, but I do not recall any situation in which a political or media figure has lost his job because of an obvious bias for or against the Irish Catholics, or the Jews or Arabs or any other ethnic group.

In all honesty, we're being intimidated by the vocal black minority; their strident reaction to anything they perceive to be anti-black strikes fear in the hearts of people who are not racist, but fear being labeled as such. Chances are better than good that this letter will be perceived as anti-black.

If racism is the issue, why not take issue with anti-white sloganeering? Bigotry is not a unique character of Caucasians. To many Orientals we are white devils, and the descriptive adjectives used by some fundamentalist Moslems colorfully describe their feelings, and American black leaders are no less loath to express their own anti-white sentiments.

To paraphrase Patrick Henry: If this be bigotry, make the most of it.

J. Henry Krane, Homosassa

Andy Rooney is suspended from CBS, Jimmy the Greek was fired from CBS and Al Campanis was fired from the LA Dodgers all because they were alleged to have made racial slurs at one particular race.

We have all suffered slurs in one form or another throughout our lives.

So many a so-called slur has a grain of truth in it, if we are wise enough to take note.

None of these mentioned above spoke in a mean spirited way. They were making an observation.

The people who took action against them are small minded and should be pitied.

Isn't free speech for all one of the privileges of this great democracy of ours?

E.

H. Pike, Clearwater

News judgment hit

Re: Senior star scores 101 points, Feb. 9.

I shudder to think what would become of this state without what is clearly one of the best newspapers on the continent. However, a serious lapse of news judgment must have occurred when the basketball story datelined Inglewood, Calif., appeared today above the fold on page one _ complete with a color photo!

The game, an exercise in greed and unsportsmanship, might have deserved a line or two in the "also worth mentioning .

.

." section of Sports Digest.

Jack Dawson, Oldsmar

Fluoride controversy continues

I am furious over the fluoride controversy in this state. I am sick and tired of hearing people say it causes cancer, AIDS and God knows what else. I am originally from Chicago where the water is naturally fluoridated from as far back as I can remember. I have been drinking fluoridated water since I was born and I am just as healthy as the next person. If fluoride is dangerous to our health, the state of Illinois would have stopped it long ago. The residents of Belleair right here in Florida are not complaining. That's where I get my drinking water. I do not mind going out of my way for fluoridated water, because I will not drink this horrible water in St. Petersburg.

Wake up Florida and get on the ball.

Deborah DiNatale, St. Petersburg

Those who are gung ho on fluoridizing our water supply should be interested in a report appearing in Chemical and Engineering News, Jan. 29, 1990, page 17. The national toxicology program has found, in a two year study of rodents' drinking water treated with fluorides,evidence of bone and oral cancers. EPA will be considering these findings in their standards for drinking water.

Jack Simon, Gulfport

Convenience store safety

A major security measure for the safety of night-shift convenience store clerks is being overlooked.

So far we have heard ideas such as brighter lighting of the stores, "real" video cameras as opposed to decoys, and requiring stores to have two clerks working during the late-night shift, among others.

However, these precautions I feel are not "safe" enough. I propose legislation requiring the stores to install night deposit windows similar to a bank's drive-through window.

The stores, for the most part, are already lit very well, especially those that sell gasoline. The video cameras assist police in finding the gunmen responsible, but this is all after the fact. A life has already been lost. If we start putting two clerks behind the counter, we run the chance of doubling that loss. Masks often obscure their faces as well.

The stores should be required to lock their doors at a specified time and all sales transactions after that time must be made through a bullet-proof night window. A drawer (large enough to pass a gallon of milk through) would then collect the money and send back the merchandise.

It is a sad commentary that we would be forced to live this way but these gunmen have proved over and over that they place no value on human life. The night deposit window is the only precaution I feel will stop this madness.

The convenience store owners and operators will argue that the night window idea is too expensive and takes the "convenience" out of the store.

But after, say, 10 p.m., what do people buy at a convenience store? Cigarettes, beer, milk, pretzels, cold medicine, etc., certainly items that the night clerk could fetch for the customer, place in the drawer, and push through to the customer. I would recommend two clerks for this system, one to mind the register and operate the drawer and the other who gets the merchandise from the shelf.

Yes, the night window plan would be expensive to install, but then we must ask ourselves .

.

. How much do the convenience store owners and operators value human life?

Patrick M. Aters, St. Petersburg

Fear of being mugged

The driving force in our land is fear _ fear of being mugged. Being mugged by: 1.drug addicts and; 2.by the medical profession.

We need handgun control, legalization of drugs and Canada's national health plan.

S.

J. Zawadzki, Homosassa

Keep art film program

Re: Art film program being phased out in Tampa and Clearwater.

It is really a shame that a metropolitan area the size of Tampa Bay can't show more support for the wonderful alternative and foreign films of the Sarasota Film Society.

There have been some beautiful and inspiring films shown through them over the last couple of years.

I would encourage those of you who have attended to write American Multi-Cinema Inc. to show your support. The address is: Mr. John McDonald, AMC Division Office, 3255 US Hwy 19, Clearwater, Fla. 34621.

Others not so fortunate as to have attended might aim to do so if we are able to retain their presence here.

Cate White, Tampa

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Letters may be edited for clarity, taste and length. We regret that not all letters can be printed.

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