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Crimes and misdirections 

Until a few months ago, freeing the state's most violent inmates was very much in vogue in Raleigh as a money-saving measure. Then in October, legislators (and in particular Gov. Bev Perdue) discovered that they could jack up their approval ratings by standing in the so-called prison doorway to block the release of violent inmates. There had been public outrage after more than 20 rapists and murderers given life or extended sentences became potentially qualified to go free on a legal technicality, and Perdue, the attorney general and the state's lawyers scrambled to block them.

But as the Raleigh News & Observer reported last week, back in August, lawyers for the state Attorney General's office argued that former death row inmate Wilbur "Milkshake" Folston, whose sentence was commuted to life after legal challenges to the death penalty abolished all death sentences in the 1970s, should be let out in 2011, after 36 years, for building up credits for good conduct in prison. (Folston doesn't deny the crime that landed him in prison, the killing of a convenience store clerk during an armed robbery.)

As the News & Observer reported, the state's lawyers reversed course and argued that Folston shouldn't be eligible for release until 2055, when he is 99. It's a complete about-face, but not a surprising one given the Raleigh cabal's recent efforts to look tough on crime while scaling back the sentences of the most dangerous criminals in the system.

A state senate amendment passed in 2005 requires the prison system to enroll a minimum of 20 percent of parole eligible inmates in the Mutual Agreement Parole Program, a pre-release program. Once enrolled, inmates are virtually guaranteed release if they complete the program.

It's the state legislature's way of essentially forcing the parole commission to let even more prisoners out, former Durham prosecutor Eric Evenson explained to Raleigh's WRAL in March. And it is working. With only a few thousand parole eligible prisoners left, corrections officials must enroll killers they might not otherwise free in the system to meet the mandate, like Edward Earl Williams who was paroled in March. Williams' release elicited zero concern from the political class in Raleigh. In 1968, he stabbed a six-year-old 12 times, slit his throat and left him to die alone. He's now a free man. The greatest irony here is that the 2005 amendment has resulted in an extra 20 or so of the state's most violent killers and rapists going free each year, the exact number Perdue and the Raleigh crowd now claim they are fighting to block because the public has learned they are about to go free on a separate legal technicality. But it all makes for great theater.

Mammograms Close to Home

A few weeks ago, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that medical providers adopt mammogram guidelines for women that are almost identical to those in Britain, where health care is rationed. Women need not begin having regular mammograms until age 50, the task force said. Presently in America, they are recommended annually starting at age 40. The idea was to spare thousands of women who would turn out to be free of the disease from the anxiety of waiting for the results and from biopsies that would turn out negative. The cost would be a small increase in undetected cancer cases and deaths.

What would that have been like had it been practiced in Charlotte starting 12 years ago? Marketing and Practice Relations Director for Charlotte Radiology Katie Robbins says Charlotte Radiology screened 624,000 women over that period for breast cancer. Some 2,800 were diagnosed with the disease. Of those, 613 were between the ages of 40 and 49.

"These were women who did not have a lump, bump or problem and came in for a regular screening mammogram," Robbins wrote. "That's a significant number of women whose cancer were caught earlier on, allowing them to have more treatment options than if they were caught later."

Left unsaid, of course, is that an unknown number of women who didn't get treated early on would die unnecessarily of the disease.

Marcia Meredith, manager of media and public relations with Presbyterian Hospital, said over the last five years, 12.2 percent of new breast cancer cases were in women between the ages of 40 and 49 and 7.1 percent are in women under 40.

"In 2008, that amounted to 467 of 2,451 total cases being diagnosed under age 50," she wrote. And it would have broken down to about 300 women in their 40s with breast cancer.

That's a lot of lives -- moms, daughters, aunts and friends -- to mess around with. Last week, the task force apologized not for the recommendation itself, but for the way they delivered it. The recommendation still stands, despite outrage from cancer groups.

"The new recommendations took on added significance because under health care reform legislation pending in Congress, the conclusions of the 16-member task force would set standards for what preventive services insurance plans would be required to cover at little or no cost," The Washington Post reported on Nov. 17.

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