New Jail Isn't 'Fluff'

Two recently published letters directly criticize the new jail, public tours of the facility [and] testing of the building with live subjects, and equate a new jail as "fluff."

Five hundred women and men who professionally serve this community in the dangerous field of adult corrections are entitled to a safe and humane work environment, where the building works toward community and staff safety, not in a contrary direction. Correctional employees are entitled to an appropriate environment to conduct security and program operations for over 9,000 persons arrested and detained and released in Montgomery County each year. That aspect of public safety is not "fluff."

Public tours of government facilities and programs are central to public understanding in a democracy. Imagine the outcry if an unviewed and unvisited maximum security correctional facility was opened for correctional operations.

Spending public dollars demands public observation and scrutiny, and over 2,500 citizens blanketed the jail and asked and received answers to hundreds of questions. That is democracy, and it was a promise we made to this community three years ago when construction began.

The jail may not be in your community, but it does exist in a growing upcounty community. There is no substitute for public knowledge and understanding. Observing the physical environment in person far surpasses fictitious dramatized fabrications and brings an important aspect of public policy to life for county citizens.

Almost every prisoner admitted to our county jail returns directly to the local community. Absent some adult basic education, movement toward or accomplishing a GED or high school diploma, basic workforce development skills, the ability to speak English or efforts to diminish drug and alcohol use, we can expect ongoing return to the criminal justice system.

That is unacceptable in this society. Arrest does not mean a life sentence unless we determine that our society will make no investment in personal growth and development. We seek concerned citizens to join as volunteers. We also hope all citizens value their superb correctional employees.

Arthur Wallenstein

Olney

Wallenstein is director of the Montgomery County Department of Correction and Rehabilitation.

Tax Dollars Well Spent

I was one of the "do-gooders" who spent the night in the new Clarksburg facility, and I would like to share my opinion of the experience in response to a letter in the March 6 Montgomery Extra.

I take exception to the comment that "county politicians and well-off do-gooders" were merely playing "cops and robbers" ["New Jail Is a Crime"]. The simulated incarceration served two main purposes: First, it provided a valuable service to the corrections department by allowing them to test the systems in the new facility with hundreds of people inside; second, it allowed the community the chance to see the taxpayer-funded facility.

I can say that the new jail, while high-tech and clean, is far from luxurious. No matter how pleasingly designed, it is still jail, and it certainly felt that way. The most dazzling (and expensive) parts of the jail are the safety and security features.

The things that the writer seems most offended by -- healthy food, recreational spaces, health and mental-health care, library and educational programs -- are either federally mandated or barely different from those at the Rockville detention center.

The Department of Correction and Rehabilitation should be commended for opening the doors of the new facility to the community.

My fellow "inmates" were not "well-off do-gooders" attending for a thrill. Instead, the people who attended this program were citizens and taxpayers who are active in the civic life of Montgomery County.

I received an invitation because of my civic involvement; I attended because I wanted to see how my tax dollars have been spent on this project.

I consider myself lucky to live in a community that takes seriously its accountability to its citizens.

My time in jail taught me that Montgomery County is lucky to have a dedicated and highly qualified Department of Correction and Rehabilitation. The corrections officers who worked overtime to facilitate the simulated incarceration deserve credit and praise for their work, not just for this program but every day.

Brigid G. Nuta

Montgomery Village

Successful Special Education

As a classroom teacher for 30 years in Montgomery County public schools, I taught many students with special needs. Partnerships were forged with parents, students, staff members and special educators. As a retired teacher, I serve as the general educator on Central IEP [Individualized Education Plan] teams. Each week, I participate with a group of professional, caring and dedicated people whose goal it is to provide opportunities for the success of our children in need of special education.

In the Feb. 6 Montgomery Extra ["Special-Ed Fight an Exercise in Frustration"], Jay Mathews stated that [Marcie] Roth's story was "an example of why special education has become, without any doubt, the most emotional and contentious subject in public schools today."

If reporters wrote the stories about students and their families that reflect positive and productive outcomes of creative and appropriate placements and programs, special education would not be viewed as solely an "exercise in frustration." If reporters wrote the stories about educators who teach, praise, reinforce, guide, challenge and protect their students while working cooperatively with parents, then special education would not be viewed as solely an "exercise in frustration."

Spotlight successful practices along with those who work diligently and compassionately with their students. Your column will then be balanced and honest.

Sue Jeweler

Rockville