Shifting the costs of justice

Jails: County facilities should not accept inmates with long sentences, except in rare cases.

May 26, 1999

A CONFRONTATION between the Carroll County sheriff and a Circuit Court judge underlines the importance of state criminal sentencing laws: County jails are meant for incarceration up to 18 months, while the state penal system is used for longer sentences.

This case was resolved with both officials not only reasonably recognizing the strict demands of the law, but also the circumstances for flexibility in its application.

Judge Daniel W. Moylan recently sentenced Scott D. Broadfoot to four years on an auto manslaughter charge but ordered that the time be served in the Carroll County jail, with work release.

That means that the county -- rather than the state -- will foot the bill for Broadfoot's entire sentence, about $56 a day. (The state pays half the cost for the 91st through 365th day in county jail, on sentences up to 18 months.)

Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning criticized the sentence for its cost to local taxpayers and for its administrative burden, as well as for violating the statutory sentencing limit. "Once you make an exception, you open the door to error," the sheriff said.

While nine inmates of the Carroll jail are serving sentences of more than 18 months, Mr. Tregoning pointed out they were agreed to by the previous sheriff, whom Mr. Tregoning defeated in last year's election. He's dead set against such arrangements, which add to crowding at the county jail. He's asked the state's attorney to bar such plea agreements.

The Carroll case provided reasons for exceeding the 18-month jail limit: a co-defendant had been given three years in the county jail, before Mr. Tregoning took office. Local work-release for both prisoners would cut county jail expenses and aid their families.

But with detention center and prison populations mushrooming across Maryland, the counties and the state must become more sensitive to this law and its fiscal implications. The sentencing law remains a reasonable one, even if rare conditions may warrant exceptions.

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