Letters to the Editor, Jan.1, 2004

Football culture involves all
To the editor:
In his letter of Dec. 18, James Barger wrote that I do "not seem to be a fan of any sport that requires a little bit of effort on the part of our children."
   That depends on what you mean by "a little bit of effort." My experience with my own high school student is that when she has more than five or six hours of extracurricular activity per week on week nights (Monday-Friday), she can’t do anything else except study and sleep. This is tolerable for a few weeks, but for kids dedicated to sports it goes on for month after month. On Nov.17, a regional daily newspaper ran a bunch of letters to the editor on this topic, and all the former high-school athletes agreed: their world was school and sports, with no time for anything else. The differences of opinion came between those who regretted this narrowing of their experiences, and a few outstandingly successful athletes who had no regrets.
   I agree with Mr. Barger that cases such as Glen Ridge are "extremely rare," but bullying, hazing, and preferential treatment of athletes are not bizarre or abnormal in many US schools. "Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, a Dream" by H. G. Bissinger and "Our Guys: The Glen Ridge Rape and the Secret Life of the Perfect Suburb" by Bernard Lefkowitz give far better pictures than I could of the downside as well as the upside of American high school football.
   What both of these books make clear is that we can’t expect school officials to control how a football culture develops, because football culture — as its Hopewell Valley supporters know and want — involves the whole community, not just the players. If we come to think of ourselves as a "football town," the football players will naturally be indulged by adults and other kids will be slighted, and that won’t be good for any of them.
Mary Ellen Curtin, Hopewell Township
Senseless destruction of lives
To the editor:
On Dec. 5, 1933, the federal government’s policy of alcohol prohibition ended. Prohibition was repealed, not because Americans wanted to encourage drinking, but because criminalizing drinking clearly caused more harm than it prevented. The recent cases of township residents arrested for growing marijuana for their personal use, but charged with the first-degree felony of ‘operating a manufacturing facility’ is a tragic example of how our drug laws are often misused to destroy productive lives and waste valuable law enforcement resources on nonviolent offenders while violent, dangerous criminals walk free.
   In Mercer County, many serious crimes that victimize citizens, including crimes of violence, robbery, theft and arson go unsolved while the limited resources of law enforcement are focused on arresting and prosecuting those who possess or cultivate marijuana for their own use. For example, Mercer County offers a $1,000 reward for those who turn someone in for cultivating marijuana, yet no such reward exists for turning in a car-jacker or arsonist.
   In marijuana cases prosecutors routinely over-charge defendants with multiple counts including "operating a manufacturing facility", a first-degree crime, even where there is no evidence of any sale, an important element of the charge. Although a conviction is unlikely at best, the effect of these charges is to render the defendant ineligible for pre-trial intervention and other diversionary programs available to those who commit ‘less serious’ crimes, including assault, arson and fraud. The statistics regarding who is afforded entry into the diversionary programs are telling. In 2002, 17 percent of those accused of sexual assault, 30 percent of those accused of arson, 16 percent of those accused of burglary, 38 percent of child abuse/endangerment and 50 percent of fraud cases were admitted to pre-trial intervention, a program which allows the defendant to redeem him/herself through community service, probation and other requirements, eventually avoiding a felony record. In contrast, just 6 percent of drug cases were referred to pre-trial intervention. As a result, New Jersey has the highest percentage of non-violent drug offenders in its prisons of any state in the nation, wasting both human lives and taxpayer dollars.
   More and more states are realizing that treating rather than incarcerating drug offenders makes both fiscal and social sense. In Michigan, legislators repealed most of the state’s mandatory minimum drug statutes and returned sentencing discretion to state judges, saving the state more than $40 million this year alone. California’s Proposition 36, which allows non-violent, drug offenders the opportunity to receive substance abuse treatment instead of incarceration, saved that state $275 million in taxpayer money during the first year of enforcement.
   In New Jersey, legislators are considering bills to create a 15-member Commission to Review the Criminal Code (Title 2C), referring specifically the high cost and low return from New Jersey’s harsh mandatory minimums. The commission will conduct a comprehensive review and make recommendations for sentencing reforms. I urge everyone to contact his or her representatives and support this important, money-saving, and life-saving, legislation.
   Using marijuana is a crime in New Jersey. Destroying the lives of those who possess marijuana for their personal use, however, is a senseless; tragedy.
Amy Flowers, Hopewell Township