Get to the root of crime

It is refreshing to read a few sane and humane opinions on the subject of crime in ``False Toughness'' and the opinion-page article ``Lock 'Em Up Legislation Means Prisons Gain Clout,'' Sept. 20. As the authors point out, the excessively punitive policies being signed into law on both federal and state levels are driven by political expediency. The assumption on the part of politicians is that ``tough on crime'' is what the public wants. These policies also assume that there are no limits on ``toughness'' and that the more prisoners can be made to suffer the better.

In the midst of the hysteria, perhaps it would be wise to ask ourselves a few questions. Who are these criminals being fed into the maws of our rapidly growing number of prison cells? Are they all the same? Do we want to keep all of them in for life? Or, if we recognize that some of them will eventually return to the community, do we want to render them helpless or hopelessly scarred by abusive treatment?

Although I myself have been a victim of crime, I find the tilt of our present policies to be foolish and destructive. And on a moral plane, I never thought I would live to see the day - in the contemporary US - when cruelty could be regarded as virtuous. I hope we will be able to rein in the present excesses of criminal-justice policy before it is too late. Madeleine M. Goodrich, Concord, Mass.

Your letters are welcome. For publication they must be signed and include your address and telephone number. Only a selection can be published, and none acknowledged. Letters should be addressed to ``Readers Write,'' and can be sent by Internet E-mail (200 word maximum) to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM, by fax to 617-450-2317, or by mail to One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115

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