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Truth Will Out?

In his piece “Freeing Willie” (Feature, Oct. 13), Hal Riedl seemingly takes to task Baltimore’s entire criminal justice system. Included are two points he attempts to make as they relate to the Maryland Parole Commission—one of which is inaccurate and another that is not fully explained.

In his second paragraph talking about a 2009 sexual assault by Featherstone, he says, “At the time of this crime, the defendant was in violation of his release from prison, and a warrant had been issued for his return to incarceration.” This is inaccurate. True, Featherstone had previously been brought back to prison on a warrant issued for an alleged and unrelated crime earlier in 2009. However those charges were nolle prossed by the state’s attorney. Without charges, this means the Parole Commission had no legal basis to revoke his mandatory release from prison and the warrant was recalled. Thus, there was no open retake warrant for Featherstone at the time of the 2009 sexual assault.

Next, midway through the piece he discusses Featherstone’s 2007 drug conviction for which he was sentenced to time served. He explains Featherstone’s “. . . parole was formally revoked . . . [but] thanks to [dim credits he earned on his original 1986 conviction] he was released three days after. . . .” While he does not directly claim the Parole Commission let him go when they could have done otherwise, Riedl also does not explain to your readers that by state law the Parole Commission does not have the legal authority to take back a revoked offender’s diminution credits while he/she is out of prison on parole. Leaving this fact of law out may give some City Paper readers the impression that the Commission could have sent him back to prison and chose not to. The Commission can only take away an offender’s earned diminution credits if that offender was released on mandatory supervision, not parole. In this instance, Featherstone was out on parole. This is an important point to make as it relates to the Commission in the context of a piece highly critical of our criminal justice system.

City Paper did the right thing by publishing on its web site a letter from former Parole Commissioner Joe Bolesta (“The Bolesta Letter,”), in which he correctly states the commission had no legal basis to keep Featherstone in prison after charges prior to the 2009 crime were dropped. Readers of the print edition who have not seen the letter should review it for themselves.

Rick Binetti
Communications Director, Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services
Baltimore

Hal Riedl responds: The first point is a distinction without a difference. At the time of the crime against his May 2009 victim, the defendant was indeed “in violation of his release from prison.” Featherstone attacked her two days before the subpoena hearing, which he was legally obliged to attend. There was no actual active warrant for violation, because Parole Commissioner David Blumberg had recalled it.

When I explain that Featherstone got out in October 2007 thanks to his dim credits, I do not allege that the Parole Commission was at that moment in the wrong. If it appears that way to the general reader, that’s an unavoidable result of the anomaly that with regard to crimes committed before 1996, dim credits from an old sentence can be used to offset a new sentence. That anomaly was precisely why the law was changed in 1996.

 

The Patapsco River remains as wet as ever after the startling revelations, offered by Hal Riedl, that corrections officials cannot predict with certainty which released prisoners will re-offend, and that following a stranger who “knows where to get some drugs so we can party” is not always a great idea.

This is not intended as an attempt at victim-blaming or a defense of small-time hood Willie Featherstone. (Am I the only one who noted the eerie similarity of City Paper’s cover to George H. W. Bush’s sleazy “Willie Horton” ad campaign against Michael Dukakis?) I feel sorry for Trudy Levin and anyone else Featherstone may have killed or abused. But then again, I’m kind of a bleeding heart: I also feel bad for the far more numerous victims of policies supported by the big-time hoods—including Trudy’s relative Carl Levin—who work for the Senate Armed Services Committee and other government entities. (Admittedly, the wholesale slaughter of Third World denizens, none of whom probably look like Justine Bateman, is outside the jurisdiction of Riedl’s former employers at the Maryland Division of Corrections.)

Riedl mentions that Featherstone will be in prison for the next eight years. Since we won’t have to worry about him until then, how about having a real reporter do an article, or series, about a real problem that should concern us all right now: the current epidemic of innocent people victimized by bogus “child porn” and other “sex offense” charges by corrupt prosecutors and police?

Jon Swift
Baltimore

Leo Williams is Mistaken

Leo Williams is mistaken (“We Should Be in the Drug Business,” The Mail, Oct. 13). People with addictions have not been eligible for SSI since 1995. Without access to the Medicaid that accompanies SSI and the housing that $674 per month might afford, people with addictions are more likely to be homeless. This impedes the success of addiction treatment and is to no one’s advantage.

Jeff Singer
President and CEO, Health Care for the Homeless
Baltimore

Edward Ericson Jr. responds: Mr. Singer is right, but the loophole is simple: codiagnoses. The vast majority of addicts receive SSI simply by getting a codiagnosis of depression, mood disorder, or other mental illness along with “substance use disorder.”

Corn Subsidies are Poison

I commend Henry Hong for addressing the important issue of high fructose corn syrup, but noticed several limitations of his piece (“What the Fruc?” Eat Me, Sept. 29). Hong focuses on the fructose content of corn syrup and sugar, but this misses the most critical point: Government subsidies make corn syrup cheap, and cheap corn syrup gets added to a vast number of foods we consume every day, threatening our health.

Subsidies allow producers to grow more corn than the market would otherwise bear, driving the cost of corn syrup below that of sugar. The artificially low cost results in increased frequency of fructose in our food. The widespread availability of inexpensive, fructose-laden, processed foods has been implicated in skyrocketing rates of obesity, diabetes, and other serious conditions.

The impact of corn subsidies goes beyond human health. More than 86 million acres in the United States are currently under cultivation by corn producers. The New York Times reports that fertilizers used in corn-producing states enter the Mississippi River, making their way to the Gulf of Mexico and contributing to massive “dead zones” that cannot sustain aquatic life. Like public health, the environment has not escaped corn’s reach.

Hong conducts a taste test between sugar- and corn syrup-sweetened Coca-Cola, giving the impression that consumers have some choice in the matter. However, subsidies make corn the cheapest option for a range of processed foods, leaving consumers with little say. Congress sets corn and other farm subsidies when it approves the farm bill every five years. The next bill is due in 2012—for a real choice, write your representatives and senators now, and ask them to curb corn subsidies.

Tyler Smith
Baltimore

Henry Hong responds: Thanks for the comment. I just want to clarify that in paragraph four I wrote, “HFCS has been a popular industrial sweetener here in the United States since the ’70s and ’80s, and for a very good reason—it’s cheap. And that’s because corn is cheap here, due primarily to government subsidies on the crop.”

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