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Stuck with dope dealers

after prison, they stay here

February 27, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

Hagerstown Police have a dilemma - the more drug dealers they arrest, the more drug dealers they wind up with.

That's because the dealers from New York who dominate the local drug trade rarely go back to their home state when they're released from prison, said Police Chief Arthur Smith.

"When they go to jail that's it. They're ours," Smith told a group of about a dozen state corrections officials Tuesday.

When police issue an arrest warrant for a drug dealer they have to think twice before they serve it, knowing that it will bind that person to the community, Smith said.

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"He's going to be a Hagerstown drug dealer until he's too old for the game," Smith said.

At a meeting in Annapolis, the group discussed ways to send more criminals back to where they came from.

It's a difficult problem that's not unique to Hagerstown, said Michael Sarbanes, deputy chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Townsend's office has taken an interest in solving the problem because of her commitment to the HotSpots crime fighting program, he said.

The Parole Commission has made some inroads into the problem by restricting where parolees can live, said Chairwoman Patricia K. Cushwa.

Parolees have an incentive to go along because it means they get out of prison sooner, she said.

But Cushwa said she can't do anything about the 70 percent of inmates who are released because they've served all of their time.

Those convicts are supervised by the Division of Parole and Probation, which constitutionally can't restrict where they live after they're released, said Executive Deputy Director Richard Sullivan.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, disagreed. He said other states have been able to influence where their ex-convicts live upon release.

Smith said police don't want ex-convicts living in high-crime HotSpots areas because it encourages them to go back to the drug trade. But Sullivan argued that ex-cons get closer supervision if they live in a HotSpots area.

A couple of possible solutions came out of the meeting, both focused on Cushwa's end.

One idea is to start the parole process earlier so more inmates take advantage of the incentive to move back to places like New York.

Another idea would make it a crime for someone on parole to move from the area in which they agreed to live. That would require legislation, which is probably too late for this session ending April 8.

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