California's Crime Policy Way off Base

Regarding the opinion-page article `` `Three Strikes': A Step Closer to Zero Tolerance of Crime,'' May 2: The author, a member of the California State Assembly and cosponsor of this state's ``Three Strikes'' legislation, presents a superficial justification.

By his own admission, criminal sentence enhancement is a serious constitutional issue when juveniles are convicted without having had the due process benefit of a jury trial. Moreover, contrary to his belief, society has merely become exasperated, not more tolerant of criminality. Nor are ``liberals'' blaming society for the commission of criminal acts. Observers are, however, endeavoring to direct national attention to the factors contributing to crime: abuse, lack of employment, poor housing, inadequate health facilities, and educational disarray.

Ultimately, society has no alternative but to assign the individual responsibility for his or her criminal behavior. Yet one should acknowledge that this exercise is part fiction. Penologists have long noted the confluence of social and economic conditions and how these affect criminality. Also, much crime is attributable to the use of drugs.

``Three Strikes'' may make this legislator's constituents feel better, but it is unlikely to diminish criminality. Elliot A. Cohen, New York

California's Crime Policy Way off Base

This article demonstrates precisely what is wrongheaded about California's odious ``Three Strikes'' statute. The statute completely abandons a core principle of justice: proportionality. The author argues that although ``some crimes horrify us more than others ... that does not mean some crimes are more tolerable than others.'' The issue, however, is not tolerance of crime but treatment of criminals.

Under the new law, a person who, having committed two residential burglaries, decides to commit a third will receive exactly the same punishment as a person who, also having committed two residential burglaries, decides to commit a forcible rape. In essence, the policy of ``Three Strikes'' is that all felonies (except those for which death can be imposed) should be punished equally.

The question for all Americans is not whether we should ``begin moving toward zero tolerance of crime.'' Indeed, such an approach seems to lead to a ``one strike'' statute, under which any person convicted of any crime would be permanently incarcerated (unless executed). The question, rather, is whether we are willing to treat all felonies as equally heinous, regardless of whether a particular criminal act endangered no one or resulted in serious bodily harm or even death. Andrew G. Dulaney, San Francisco

US and Singapore: societal values

Regarding the opinion-page article ``A Papa Knows Best Approach to Order in Singapore,'' April 21: The author's description of law and order in Singapore (``The police swiftly pluck serious criminals off the streets ...'') is a simplistic rendering of a complex and deadly social system. The author's observation that ``there have been some very unattractive examples in history of regimes that placed efficiency and order above the rights of individuals'' does not excuse him for the attractive, simplistic picture he paints. But perhaps I protest too much? After all, Mussolini made the trains run on time. Seth Edelman Castleton, N.Y.

I couldn't help being slightly disturbed by the article ``America Takes a Lickin','' April 27, about how the case of Michael Fay illustrates cultural differences between the United States and Singapore.

According to Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's senior minister, ``You should not abandon your basic pattern of culture, because there is a real danger ... of losing your own basic values without absorbing the essence of the other culture.'' Mr. Lee apparently attributes ``chaos'' in the US to an unwillingness to enforce values with harsh punishment.

This unwillingness, however, can itself be attributed to a higher value: the dignity of all human beings, including those who have committed the heinous crime of spray painting. This value is expressed in a constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, so it is necessary for Americans to find methods other than ceremonial beatings to enforce the rest of their values. Dan Might, Cincinnati

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