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Protection of law-abiding citizens must come first

Jon East's June 6 column in Perspective, You can't build your way out of crime, proffers fiscal arguments against more prison beds. Fiscal concerns are necessary, yet they should not be viewed exclusively in crime control theorizing, irrespective of cost-benefit analyses.

To some degree, I, too, accept that prison beds don't impact crime. I don't accept the suggestion by many that most of our "nonviolent" criminals shouldn't be in prison. Many of those criminals would otherwise continue to commit crimes that ultimately cost society much more than the prison beds used to keep the criminals behind bars. And unchecked, repetitious, "nonviolent" crimes usually lead to violent ones; e.g., the burglar who is eventually confronted by the homeowner, or the drug deal gone bad. Further, our judges are quite aware of what they are dealing with when they sentence "nonviolent" criminals to prison, i.e., usually someone who has been through the system many times before a judge takes away the criminal's freedom in an effort to control the criminal's behavior, any seemingly quirky sentencing requirements notwithstanding.

Florida experiences a rate of growth which exceeds that of most less-developed countries. And all of our new residents are not nice people. That strain on already stretched resources, along with diminished economic opportunity and nonexistent or family situations, contributes to the dire situation we are in. And to suggest the building of schools instead of prisons as the solution is too simplistic. We should first address the sad fact that 42 percent of kids entering the ninth grade in our state don't graduate from high school. Thus, who will be taught in more schools? Of course, we must improve the bad school situation and explore alternatives to prison. We are obliged to do this. Yet, in the interim, we need to hold people accountable for theirs' and their children's behavior, and we must protect our citizens. That is where it all starts. People are just tired of being victimized by predators, and the predators must be controlled.

H.

B. Wilber, Major, Detention & Corrections

Bureau, Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, Largo

Tougher prisons needed

Re: Jailed athlete blames others, June 8.

The so-called experts in our government who have been debating the issue of building additional jail cells should heed the words of Issac Johnson (Pasco football player/felon) who said, "I'd rather sit in my cell than be on probation. It ain't too bad in here."

Isaac Johnson, unwittingly, has managed to succinctly sum up the major reason that our recidivism rate is spiraling upward along with the costs for building new prisons. Jail is no longer a deterrent for street criminals. With all of the concessions made to various, liberal groups of do-gooders campaigning against "cruel and unusual punishment," we have reached the point where prisoners live more comfortably than college students or military personnel. Jail, for the most part, has taken on a country club atmosphere with color TV, recreation rooms, spacious cells and telephones _ not to mention meals and health care at no charge. It's highly probable that some repeat offenders commit crimes in order that they can return to the good life _ in jail.

If we're ever going to reverse the growing prison population trend, we've got to go back to the days when jail was considered punishment and not carefree, subsidized dormitory living. Let's increase the number of prisoners to a cell (submarines don't enjoy the luxury of 20 square feet of space per man), sell the color TVs, phones and ping-pong tables, and reinstate road gangs.

Bob Lindskog, Clearwater

New standard of morality?

Re: The muzzling of Miss America, June 9.

If Miss America had the moral courage and maturity to tell teens that there is no such thing as "safe sex" even with condoms, that the smart and responsible thing to do under the circumstances is to stay out of harm's way, to have the courage to do what is right regardless of what others do _ then, it is certain that the secular, amoral theologians who write editorials for the St. Petersburg Times would never dream of mentioning or honoring Miss America in their editorials.

If "safe sex" is the new, secular standard of morality, why not "safe lies," "safe robbery," "safe fraud," "safe murder," "safe anything-that's-wrong"? As long as no one finds out and I don't suffer any physical consequences, it's okay to do it, right?

Charles Previte, South Pasadena

Case closed

Re: USF officials spread untruth, June 9.

For the Times to equate acknowledgement of a rumor (in response to a reporter's query concerning the whereabouts of a former student accused of assault) with a deliberate campaign of rumor-mongering is inexcusable journalism.

What also is inexcusable is the implication that anyone at USF is vindictively trying to spread a rumor to smear any alleged victim of sexual assault. When you consider who keeps dragging this case into the news, you wonder who really is in the business of tarnishing reputations.

We are not in the business of rumor-mongering or revictimizing a victim, especially one involved in an alleged sexual assault case. It is outrageous to assert otherwise.

The alleged assault case was an unfortunate situation, but the case is closed. Except at the Times. We prefer to dwell on the future and the national model Victims Advocacy Program that has resulted.

Dan Casseday, Director of Media Relations

University of South Florida, Tampa

Military health care praised

I would like to respond to a recent letter, concerning national health care, in which the letter writer stated, "Anyone who has ever stayed in or worked for (a VA or military hospital) will vouch for what nightmares they are."

I am a military veteran of World War II. I am also the wife of a retired Air Force officer. I have been a patient at Bay Pines VA hospital, MacDill Air Base hospital, and the military clinic at Brandon. I am extremely pleased with the care I received at all three. It not only measured up to the care I have received in civilian hospitals and doctors' offices, it was, overall, more caring and more efficient. My only complaint would be the sometimes long waits to be seen. But, I have experienced that at civilian facilities also.

In addition to being a patient, I have also worked as a medical technologist (laboratory specialist) at Bay Pines and at an Air Force hospital in Texas. I have also worked at several civilian hospitals. I have been retired since 1980. My experience working behind the scene backs up my experience as a patient. The VA and military hospital personnel are as trained and as competent as in any civilian hospital where I have worked.

Perhaps it can all be explained thusly: Military and VA hospitals and staff are not driven by the need to make money, namely, greed. However, they must work within their government budget.

Madelen Strong, Sun City Center

Re: Time for a reality check, letter to the editor, June 8.

The letter writer sure made me mad when she knocked Bay Pines.

Been to a VA hospital lately? Yes.

I was in Bay Pines from the end of February to the first week in March. I could not have received better care anywhere. The entire staff was first-class; the equipment and building were as good as any private hospital. I can't say enough about the good care I received.

John V. Smith, St. Petersburg

Pets will suffer

Re: Irresponsible pet ownership, letter to the editor, May 20.

Coercive breeding control measures are inappropriate in this state, and are potentially harmful. Such measures may well encourage people to abandon litters and pregnant pets in order to avoid being penalized. This could result in even more animals being left to suffer and breed in our communities. These pets will not be reclaimed by their owners who fear a fine will be imposed. Furthermore, coercive legislation will do nothing to reduce the birthrate in our feral and semi-feral cat populations, for these animals have no owners who can be fined or otherwise punished into complying with any new law. The effect could thus be a sharp increase, not decrease. This will produce more misery and suffering for the animals who are abandoned and forced to fend for themselves.

To eliminate the overpopulation in Florida, we need to put our resources to work on both sides of the equation _ we have to establish programs and services not only to reduce numbers but also to increase the number of responsible homes that are available. Along with these efforts, we have to continue to promote a message about the importance of altering pets and an essential part of responsible pet ownership.

Education not legislation is the way to inform the general public about responsible pet ownership.

Marjorie Lowe, Director,

Paws Across Florida, Largo

Make English official

Re: The language vote in Miami.

In voting that Spanish-speaking residents do not have to learn English and that all legal documents will be in Spanish, the door has been opened.

It has been forecast that across the southern United States the greatest increase in population will be Spanish-speaking people. As this happens, should the Miami vote mark a precedent, are we eventually going to be in the same position as Canada?

We should have an official language and it should be English.

M.

W. Lantz, Largo

"We need Discovery'

Re: The feature Cenozoic Park and its "aftermath."

The recent "Discovery" section feature Cenozoic Park was beautifully done. Jeff Klinkenberg and Don Morris certainly deserve praise for a wonderful piece of imaginative journalism. However, I'll bet they're both equally stunned by the response to it from a large group of Times readers.

The next day's Tampa Bay/State section says that more than 60 people called the Times to find out where the fictional park was located! These people actually wanted directions on how to visit this imaginary "attraction" even though the article clearly states that it is an "imaginary zoo" featuring "prehistoric animals"! Don't people know what "prehistoric" means?

This incident is amusing. But it points out a problem in our society today as well _ the woefully ignorant nature of the public's knowledge of science. It also shows how we need a section like Discovery, devoted to explaining science to the public.

Keep up the good work with Discovery. Your reading audience _ especially those 60-plus callers _ really needs it.

Greg Simpson, Clearwater

When Discovery was added to the Times and the Explorer page for "kids" was published, I thought, "Who needs this with so much happening in the world?"

Well, I take it back. I look forward to the Discovery for "kids" and have learned things I either forgot or didn't know. Thank you.

Elsie Y. Bouvier, South Pasadena

Share your opinions

Letters for publication should be addressed to Letters to the Editor, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, (FAX number, 893-8675). They must include the handwritten signature and address of the writer. Letters may be edited for clarity, taste and length. We regret that not all letters can be printed.

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