Letters from the week of November 20, 2003

When the parole boards were active, they were sort of a "pressure relief valve," and kept the numbers of inmates being released because of good behavior, and kept the system in balance. The truth in sentencing guidelines took the "valve" away and, as a result, put the "system" in a very complicated situation. There are many, many people in the prison system who should have been released by now (under the pre-1994 guidelines), paying taxes and being productive members of society. But being a model prisoner in today's Arizona prison system doesn't warrant any type of relief whatsoever.

It's easy to form an opinion, standing on the outside looking in at all of this. It seems to me that this "tough on crime/truth in sentencing" bill has caught up with us, and put us in way over our heads. We need to figure out a way to get that "valve" back that protects the public's safety and ensures the balance of people in prison and out.

If this means the percentage of time served on a sentence reflects the nature of the crime, so be it. Cases are on an individual basis, and should be treated as such, from the judge, who deserves to have the discretion (as an elected official), to the parole committees. We are running out of Band-Aids, and we can't keep going the way we're going. Something has to be done, from one concerned Arizonan to another.

Raymond A. Baker

Stop the madness: Thanks for publishing the honest column by Robert Nelson. The war on drugs isn't about justice or protecting our children. We've spent 30 years under that pretense and what have been the results?

Our senators and representatives have conveniently exempted themselves from drug testing while Drug Czar John Walters tours the country pressuring school boards to implement drug testing for our children.

The hypocrisy of this is so thick it stinks. Current and past presidents have used some of the very substances that have sent others straight to prison. What message are we really sending our kids?

Our "leaders" need to find the courage to end this insanity before another generation is forced to endure the hypocritical prosecution of American citizens.

If our "leaders" can't find that courage, then they need to be voted out to make room for those who have the conviction to do real justice and end this domestic policy disaster.

Scott Russ
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Semi Conductors

They can't see, but they show up on time: I have represented various railway workers for the last 20 years. One of my responsibility areas has been various medical disqualification (disability) cases Ma href="/issues/2003-10-16/news.html/1/index.html">("Throttled," Patti Epler, October 16). With respect to vision and railroading in the operating crafts -- switchmen, brakemen, conductors and engineers: While on first blush it may seem that people with monocular vision may pose a risk to railroad operations, such really is not the case. In all of the cases I have been involved in, the vision-disabled employees have had significantly better attendance and performance records than normal-vision employees.

It is also significant to note that several years ago the Department of Transportation was directed by the Congress to reassess its medical disqualification requirements for commercial truck drivers to make sure that same were not violative of the ADA. Vision was an area reexamined by DOT, and a trial program was instituted wherein commercial truck drivers with various medical conditions (who were normally disqualified because of said conditions) were allowed to continue to be provisionally certified by DOT if they met certain qualifications (like much better driving record history than their peers -- this was discriminatory itself as a required standard). These individuals were also followed very, very closely as to their driving performance through the trial period.

The result of the trial test period: Impaired drivers had very significantly better driving records than did non-impaired drivers.

This same type of result was attained in Sweden with respect to a test group of 5,000 color-vision-impaired bus drivers vs. 5,000 normal-vision drivers. Far fewer accidents and/or driving violations were experienced by the color-vision-defective drivers.

Perhaps the jury in the cited case was uneasy about Michael Coleman's ability to see the accident site. However, in reality, there were three people viewing the site -- two with normal binocular vision -- and yet none of them took any action to reduce the train's speed immediately prior to the accident. So, was the accident caused by defective vision? I think not!

The disabled have quite a "cross to bear" when it comes to employment issues. Most discrimination in this area is based on myth, stereotypes, misinformation and baseless fear. The scientific evidence and various other types of studies concerning the disabled worker usually show that such workers perform the job much better than their peers!

Kenneth L. Rogers
Vice Local Chairman
United Transportation Union

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