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Officials weigh in on federal reform

With the Department of Justice's federal policy reform on mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offenders announced this week, several local law enforcement officials agreed the changes won't have much of an impact in Carroll County.
On Monday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the new policy will relieve our prisons and ensure federal laws are enforced more fairly.
The policy reform won't have an effect on the way the Carroll County State's Attorney's Office handles prosecutions, according to Senior Assistant State's Attorney Edward Coyne.
Coyne, a narcotics prosecutor, said state prosecutors evaluate each case on a case-by-case basis and take into account the crime and the criminal history of an individual and then determine a just sentence.
"Our goal is justice," Coyne said.
Carroll County Detention Center Warden George Hardinger said the changes are a sign the government is moving to a treatment model versus one of punishment when dealing with these criminals, which he supports.
"What is making a critical difference is finding treatment programs that actually work," said Hardinger, alluding to community-based treatment programs.
The Carroll County Health Department has played a key role in the treatment of offenders in terms of getting the individual lined up with the proper level of treatment versus just reacting to their crime, Hardinger said.
Carroll County Sheriff Kenneth Tregoning said he doesn't necessarily agree with the federal reform and believes in stiff sanctions for those who violate drug laws.
If not, Tregoning said, it would lead to more crime and violence.
At the Carroll County Detention Center, 75 to 80 percent of the inmate population is drug-related offenders, according to Tregoning.
However, Hardinger said a minimal number of those are low-level, non-violent drug offenders.
Inmates with sentences from drug charges have typically committed other crimes including robbery or the intent to distribute drugs, Hardinger said.
More lenient sentences could put criminals back on the streets more quickly and lead to a revolving door of arrests, Tregoning said.
What's driving the federal changes is economics, Tregoning said.
Incarceration cost $80 billion nationwide in 2010, according to the Department of Justice.
"Today, a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities," Holder wrote in the Justice Department report. "However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem, rather than alleviate it."
Judson K. Larrimore, chief attorney of the Carroll County Public Defender's Office, said the changes point to the federal justice system modeling the state system.
"Our local judges here have always had the discretion on a case-by-case basis for when to use punishment and when to use treatment, or when to use a blend of both remedies," Larrimore said. "To the extent that the federal government is modifying its mandatory guidelines for non-violent drug offenses, they are just catching up to the 21st century way of thinking."

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