1. Archive

Our prisons are supposed to be for punishment

Neal R. Peirce's column, Georgia gives meaning to "hard time" (July 10), was right down the Times' alley in its campaign for country club prisons _ full of emotional alarums and dire apocalyptic predictions about strict prison regimes.

While Peirce acknowledges "the obvious failure of our penal system," he nevertheless laments Georgia's change to a stricter prison system. Why? If easy time isn't working, why not try something else? What is Peirce's problem?

Here are some of the changes Peirce is uptight about: Prisoners can no longer work-out with weights. For exercise, prisoners must walk four miles a day and dig ditches. Makes perfect sense. A long walk is excellent exercise. Digging is even better. Why do prisoners need enormous strength? How would you, as a guard, like to face down Mr. Muscles who could pick you up and flush you down the toilet?

Another change is restricted use of the telephone. It's about time. There was a story in the Times recently about a prisoner who, convicted of murder, called a jury member presumably to influence the jury member's decision about the penalty he was about to get! And stories of prisoners conning people on the phone are legion.

The Georgia corrections director also instituted prison shakedowns to rout out troublemakers and contraband. Peirce ridiculed the results: "A few razor blades here, a tattoo machine there, some drugs." Razor blades and drugs in prison? Their presence shows nothing but contempt for authority.

Peirce concluded, "Treat men as animals, and when they're out on the street, how do you think they'll treat us?" Ha. Animals should have it so good. If mollycoddling is so great, why do ex-cons already treat us so shabbily?

Francis J. Sullivan, St. Petersburg

I thoroughly agree with a July 13 letter Spare us the complaints of a death row convict. Life in prison is supposed to be a punishment.

It reminded me of the trial in California of the Menendez brothers accused of killing their parents. The verdict was life in prison. Now one brother has requested to get married and raise a family in prison. Of course, that is up in the air. But the idea of it, when a life sentence is supposed to be a punishment.

Gail P. Haslinger, St. Petersburg

A way to deal with addicts

Recently I heard from a legislator that he did not agree with me on the decriminalizing of drugs. Oddly enough, I do not want to decriminalize drugs either. On that we are in complete agreement.

What I do want is for any addicts who will admit their addiction to be able to get a free prescription for free drugs of their choice. That will take the big money out of dealing in drugs and will stop the pushers from trying to get kids hooked on drugs. If such a law were passed, then anyone fool enough to deal in illegal drugs should get the maximum sentence possible.

I hear from people almost every day telling me they believe the "war on drugs" is a very expensive farce. The Florida Legislature needs to hold a special session to pass legislation as outlined above. The money saved could certainly be put to good use in improving roads, providing more teachers per pupil, relocating homes built in flood plains and many other worthwhile uses.

David B. Higginbottom, Frostproof

It finally adds up

Re: Pro sports and economic impact.

Finally, it's become clear as day. Everything the chambers of commerce and the Bucs and the elected officials said was true. The NFL boosts our area's economy in ways we never even consider.

Now that we can see the bean counters obviously include the "shot in the arm" that superhero NFL players like Michael Irvin bring to an area's illegal drug and prostitution business, the total impact of an NFL team finally adds up. Hopefully, Hillsborough County voters will be clear on this before they decide this fall on a referendum to fund a new home for a business that contributes so much to our society.

P.S. It's appropriate that funding for police and a stadium to keep the Bucs are on the same ticket. After all, if we plan to keep people like the Buc's Lamar Thomas (charged with two counts of battery on his pregnant fiancee) around, we're always going to need more police. Hats off to forward thinking!

Paul Harris, Tampa

Another blow to morality

Hardly a day goes by without a story about a professional athlete involved in drugs, family abuse, assault or a shooting. These people are the role models that the children of today try to imitate. In my day it was Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson or Joe DiMaggio. Men like Michael Irvin should be drummed out of sports and be fined all of the money that they ever earned playing professionally. I can't understand how the NFL can let this man back on the playing field as if nothing happened.

OH, the NFL will slap him on the wrist and give him a nominal fine or something, but the danger that this man poses to the values of America's young black people is awesome. No one is telling them that if they get caught with 10 kilos of cocaine they are going straight to hard time. No one is telling them that they can't get away with the same crimes. They take it for granted that they can.

The judge and prosecutors in the Irvin case apparently considered the Dallas Cowboys' win-and-loss record more important than American justice. Another big bite out of the morality of the nation.

Guy U. Nash, St. Petersburg

A right to know about pollution

Of all the environmental laws under attack in Congress, one of the most troubling is the effort to roll back the Community Right to Know Act. This simple reporting law provides the public with information on toxic chemicals released into our air, land and water here in Tampa Bay.

More than 72,000 synthetic chemicals are used and produced, many of which are believed to cause cancer, birth defects and other health problems, in addition to the environmental destruction they cause. Currently, companies report on their emissions of fewer than 1 percent of all chemicals. This leaves many of Tampa Bay's residents, workers and even municipal officials in the dark about the bulk of chemicals we're being exposed to. The community has a right to know what kinds of toxic chemicals are polluting their neighborhoods and the potential dangers we face from exposure to them.

Because the Community Right to Know Act makes so much sense, and has overwhelming public support, chemical manufacturers and other polluters are attempting to weaken the law through stealth attacks. Last fall, new Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott attempted to lift reporting requirements on up to 90 percent of the chemicals covered by the law. Just last month, polluters and their friends in Congress attempted to eliminate funding for the program.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed adding incinerators, electric utilities and other polluting industries to the list of facilities covered by the right to know law. The agency is also working to provide the public with data on the toxic chemicals used by polluters in the workplace and about toxic substances found in consumer products. These proposals make good sense.

As the cancer rate goes up and public concern increases along with it, members of Congress should support these proposals instead of trying to roll back the public's "right to know."

Daniel Jacobson, executive director, Florida Public

Interest Research Group, Tallahassee

No room for pornography

Your July 10 editorial, Scrambled signals from the court accuses the Supreme Court of being inconsistent in applying First Amendment protections of free speech. But you overlook an even greater inconsistency: yours.

As most liberal publications do, the Times tends to get very worked up over any hint of censorship that would hinder the dissemination of pornography. Even your example of giving a cable company the right not to carry the Miss Nude Tampa pageant is something you call "unsettling."

You ask, "Do we really want cable companies making those decisions?" Then ask this: Do we really want the Times to decide what advertising it will and will not publish?

If the issue were restrictions on hate speech, you would make a far different argument, I am sure. Hate speech inspires acts of violence at the worst and, at the least, foments simmering resentments that cause real harm to people.

But both liberal and conservative organizations have made persuasive arguments that pornography does just that. It creates conditions that coarsen culture, demean women and children, and undermine the natural and healthy relationships between man and woman.

The libertarian argument that everyone should do just as he pleases is too simplistic to apply to some issues, such as hate speech and pornography. Both of these impact harmfully on the lives of many more people than merely those directly involved. The entire community must set the standards of decency. Otherwise, cultural pollution is the result.

Robert Arvay, Tampa

Tax money buried in the dirt

Re: Pride grows in community garden, July 15.

I don't believe it, although by now I should! Another example of how our government welfare system has exceeded all boundaries of reason with respect to the spending of our money. Not only are these dropouts, misfits and flower children living on Social Security, disability, AFDC and at homeless veterans' centers, but now taxpayers are providing them with their own 10-by-10 plot of land replete with seeds and a government-paid worker who is pushing for more of our money to fund "art classes" for the neighborhood children (how about math, science and reading instead?) and to expand this garden (read: money pit).

So, these artists, ex-mechanics, self-described writers and earth-bound therapists are proud of their work and think they are repairing their crime-ridden community where "nobody with any sense stays outside after dark." Sorry, but these types are breaking the backs of us taxpayers (who support their do-nothing lifestyles).

All hard-working taxpayers should keep the article and read it before they prepare to vote or when they are in despair over why there isn't enough money to pay their bills. Enough is enough. Make them get out and work! And by the way, what in the hell is an "earth-bound therapist"?

Michael Cofer, Seminole

Good grows in the garden

"How willing hands can improve an otherwise disastrous area." What a great story _ about the free garden area in Tampa that was once drug infested. Just think what could be done in lots of other areas if people had such incentives and someone like Linda Bell to guide them.

After all the news of crime and violence that we are confronted with every day, this really was encouraging. We can clean up this great country of ours and feed people at the same time if we'd all work together as a community, instead of just looking out for ourselves.

Working together is the best thing anyone can do for the community they live in. We reap lots of benefits, such as good exercise, good friends, good food and cleaner air, where there are no drugs. As the man said, "When you put your hands into the soil, the Almighty blesses you."

I just hope someone will come up with the needed funds to continue this project for many years. Bell stated that this was the last year that they were being funded.

Fran Karafas, Clearwater