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Drug focus bogs justice system

by: L.E. BASKOW, In Multnomah County, inmates may be released early due to overcrowding (such as this group from 2003). One reader has an idea to free up jail space and other resources: Stop the criminal treatment of personal drug use.

The article 'Justice for none' describes the disintegration of the Multnomah County justice system: overwhelmed courts, criminals released early, ending parolee supervision (Aug. 18).

Lack of manpower, money and jail beds leaves violent criminals unsupervised. It's time to clarify our correctional priorities and perhaps end our decadeslong social experiment in criminalizing personal use of drugs.

Besides the fundamental unfairness of enforcement, there's the cost. If the police knew the name of every user in Portland, we couldn't afford to arrest them all.

Many violent acts are committed by sober, drug-free criminals. Yet we punish drug users who aren't violent or thieves, all in an effort to scare other people away from drugs.

This has not only not stopped people from using drugs, it gives violent offenders more of a chance to escape justice, from both lack of enforcement, and when they're offered easier sentences if they claim the drugs 'made' them do it.

How about this - if someone steals or hurts or threatens another person, we lock them up. If they do drugs in the privacy of their homes, we leave them alone. Can you imagine a more powerful incentive to behave than being permitted to use one's drug of choice?

Trish Randall

Vancouver, Wash.

Why have restrooms that aren't kept up?

I'm a resident of Northwest Portland and use the parks in the neighborhood frequently. Imagine my bewilderment when I noticed a Honey Bucket portable toilet set up at Couch Park specifically for the audiences of the 2006 Summer Concert series.

Nothing wrong with that, ordinarily, except Couch Park has a functioning restroom facility. The concerts don't attract a large enough crowd to warrant an additional restroom facility, so I asked the question of Portland Parks and Recreation, 'Why the need for the portable restrooms for these concerts?'

The organization's public information officer replied, 'Because the park bathroom's facilities are usually trashed.'

Ah, so instead of administering the bathrooms and keeping them in working order, you just double the tax-dollar waste and order another set of bathrooms - these cleaner - so that the concertgoers have a clean place to relieve themselves, while the everyday park users have at their disposal a disgusting toilet that the parks bureau isn't maintaining properly.

I am not necessarily calling for the parks bureau to increase the maintenance of the restroom facilities at Couch Park. I am calling on it to close it altogether. If closure isn't an option by law, then it must do its part to maintain the facilities.

The part of the park that thrives daily is the off-leash dog park area. Each day, several dozen dog owners - all local residents - gather at the park. Not a single one of those people, nor any other ordinary park users, would ever dare venture into one of those bathrooms.

But I will tell you who does use the bathrooms. Drunks who need a place to crash for an hour or two, homeless to have a place to drink, street kids who shoot up, and last, but certainly not least, prostitutes who turn tricks.

This is not hyperbole, this is the naked truth - one that anyone can prove by sitting and videotaping the activity around this facility on any given day.

No taxpaying citizen of the neighborhood would in their right mind set a foot in one of those bathrooms.

So my complaint is twofold. One is a message to the parks bureau: Stop wasting taxpayer dollars by delivering extra restroom facilities to act in place of the ones you are not maintaining adequately.

Close the bathrooms. They do not serve the public good. They serve the public bad, and I can't find a single taxpayer within this neighborhood who wants their money used to halfheartedly maintain a facility whose only claim to fame is that it gives vagrants a reason to return to the park and do their dirty business.

My second message is to the city, which is being lobbied by PHLUSH (Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human) - in an effort to increase the number of public restrooms in Portland.

The city needs to wake up and realize that it cannot even maintain the restroom facilities it has in its parks and that those facilities are being 'wasted' on those that do not contribute in any way to the city's bottom line or community well-being.

Sylvia Ross

Northwest Portland