Letters to the Editor

04/29 What You’re Saying: Alexander B. Denson, Dan Oldman, Max Ramage, Tim Horne, and Michael Whittingham

The case for supervised release

I write in support of attorney Allyn Sharp’s editorial (“Cash bail system preys on, profits off the poor,” April 23) urging alternatives to cash or bail bonds.

I served 22 years as a U.S. Magistrate Judge for the federal judicial district of eastern North Carolina (Wake County to the coast). While the primary focus of my position was as a civil trial judge, I also had responsibility for conducting initial appearances of some criminal defendants. Part of those proceedings was to decide the issue of pretrial detention.

In deciding whether to detain or release defendants pending trial, there were two concerns. First, would the defendant pose a danger to himself or to others if released? Second, would the defendant return to court as needed or flee? If there were conditions that could be imposed on pretrial release to meet these two concerns, then the defendant should be released on those conditions. If not, he should be detained.

All released defendants were supervised by capable, highly trained Pretrial Services Officers. Conditions that might be imposed on release might include: drug testing, travel restrictions, maintaining employment, staying in school, not having access to firearms, or almost anything else that might ensure that the defendant not flee or harm anyone. Those defendants were subjected to surprise visits at home or at work by Pretrial Services Officers. A violation of any condition would result in a hearing to determine whether release should be revoked.

While I do not have the current figures available to me, supervised pretrial release is substantially less expensive than incarceration. One report available on the internet reported that 200 defendants were supervised on pretrial release in New Hanover County for 180 days at a cost of $235,440 compared to incarceration cost of $2.88 Million; a savings of $2.64 Million to that county. (“Evaluating Pretrial Service Programs in NC” by Melinda Turner, Federal Probation, Vol. 72)

I often imposed unsecured bonds (written promise to pay an amount if conditions were violated) and a few times I required the posting of equity in a house or other property, those did not cost a defendant anything so long as he complied with conditions of release. I do not believe I ever required a defendant to buy a bail bond.

A large percentage of people in any jail have not been convicted of any crime, and may never be. They are there awaiting trial to determine their guilt, and they cannot afford to pay the bond premium. Many will lose their jobs, and they and their families will have to resort to charity and government assistance. If they were employed and having taxes withheld, those taxes will no longer be paid. Some will lose their homes or cars because they cannot make payments. They are often in jail a year or longer awaiting trial.

Some pretrial incarceration is necessary because some defendants are dangerous and would pose a threat to society and others would likely flee. But for the vast majority, supervised pretrial release on specified conditions would meet the legitimate concerns of danger and risk of flight. We should not incarcerate people before trial unnecessarily. To do so is to punish people who have not been found guilty. And it is expensive to the taxpayers!

Alexander B. Denson

United States Magistrate Judge, Ret.

Editor’s note: The length limit was waive for a fuller response.

Echols’ steady hand

I’m a member of People’s Alliance, but I take issue with their endorsement for district attorney. I went to the PA endorsement meeting and listened to about 45 people speaking for and against our current DA, Roger Echols. Those who spoke against him did not convince me – even though the majority voted for someone else.

I believe the PA people who spoke against Roger were undervaluing the contribution of experience and overvaluing what someone might do. The DA has to work within the legal and social frameworks of the office. Within that framework, Roger has accomplished a lot to improve things.

This is not to say that our criminal justice system doesn’t have a long way to go, but I don't believe that the current DA is a major barrier to making progress. People who cite the disproportionality of racial minorities in jail fail to recognize that the root cause of many of these problems is poverty, something the DA has limited power to fix. He does what he can. For example, he is an advocate for statewide bail reform.

Please vote for Roger Echols. He’s had a steady hand on the DA’s office for four years, and there is no reason why things that he can do won’t improve.

Dan Oldman


Slow population growth

This Earth Day, let's remember that the biggest threat to our environment is relentless population growth. Back in the 1970s, the founder of Earth Day, Senator Nelson of Wisconsin, warned that U.S. population would soon surpass 250 million. Today, our population is 327 million and climbing.

Having lived in Durham for the past 26 years, I have witnessed the negative effects of massive population growth: not simply the traffic jams and crowds, but also the air pollution, destruction of forests, and unchecked urban sprawl. I predict that unless population growth slows, by 2100 if not sooner Durham will sit in the middle of a single continuous urban area stretching from Atlanta to Boston. Imagine the impact such sprawl would have on both our quality of life and the flora and fauna with which we coexist.

I urge readers of the Herald-Sun to educate themselves on the causes of, and solutions to, America's out-of-control population explosion. We ought to bear in mind that what is good for overzealous real estate developers is rarely good for the earth.

Max Ramage


Blackwood a strong leader

I am a lifelong resident of Orange County and a current member of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, where I have served for 28 years. During the last four years under Sheriff Charles Blackwood, I have seen firsthand the difference that strong leadership makes.

Sheriff Blackwood has created an environment for success within the agency, as well as in the communities that we serve. He has implemented and supported countless community based programs, improved law enforcement services, and been fiscally responsible with tax payer and county funds entrusted to him. Additionally, officers now receive the training and equipment needed to provide the best possible response when law enforcement services are needed.

With Sheriff Blackwood’s leadership, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office has now set the gold standard to which other law enforcement agencies strive to achieve. I am proud of the men and women of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, and of Sheriff Blackwood. With his experience, passion for the job, and effective leadership, all people of Orange County will be well served for years to come.

As an Orange County resident and employee of the Sheriff’s Office, the choice for Sheriff is simple: Charles Blackwood.

Tim Horne

Chapel Hill

Rise above ‘victimhood’

I need to respond to Leonard Pitt's commentary “Racism is a white problem.”

First off, the highest rate of alcoholism, opioid addiction and suicide is in the white community. I do not cry to the government or other institutions to fix this. These issues are family/culturally based. I have been asked to leave restaraunts in the past because other paying customers were waiting to take my seat. Please stop preaching “victimhood” to your readers. Address real issues and encourage people to rise above it.

Michael Whittingham


Speak up

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