Sheriff Brown's Scare Tactics CARROLL COUNTY

August 02, 1993

Carroll Sheriff John Brown has added a new wrinkle to the controversy on whether to expand the Carroll County Detention Center. Mr. Brown notified the county commissioners that he will not take advantage of the home detention program that the state authorized for non-violent offenders beginning this fall. Instead, he will keep all inmates in his custody behind bars -- thus promising to exacerbate the continued crowding at the jail.

Rather than spend money on home detention, the sheriff said the commissioners should be buying "bricks, mortar, iron and steel bars," not electronic home monitoring devices. Mr. Brown claims his budget is insufficient to hire the personnel needed to properly run a home detention program that would guarantee public safety.

The sheriff's budgetary frustrations are understandable, but his threat is a transparent ploy to try to force Carroll's three commissioners to fulfill his wish to build an 80-bed addition to the existing jail. The commissioners have been reluctant to proceed because the lowest bid they received was about $1 million more than they had budgeted for the project.

As authorized by the General Assembly, the home detention program is for inmates who pose little or no threat to society. These might include people awaiting trial for non-violent offenses and who are in jail only because they can't make bail. Others might include people serving sentences for a wide assortment of misdemeanors and non-violent felonies.

The theory behind home detention is that by restricting these people to their homes, the county saves money and ensures the availability of cells for more violent criminals. Home detention was never considered a replacement for jail expansion but as a means to reduce the number of people requiring jail space.

While we agree with Mr. Brown that expansion of the jail is the proper course, resorting to scare tactics -- such as suggesting the home detention program will jeopardize public safety -- is not the way to convince the commissioners to proceed.

In fact, the sheriff's intemperate and inaccurate remarks about home detention could sabotage a potentially useful program as well as divert attention from the real need to start the prison expansion as soon as possible.

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