Opinion

Monitor drug pushers who are getting breaks

An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va. — Profiling – when law enforcement officers pay special attention to certain classes of people – has gotten an unmerited broad-stroke bad reputation among some Americans.

But in some situations, it is entirely proper. Not using the technique would be foolish, in fact.

Police and sheriffs’ deputies in northern West Virginia ought to be profiling a new group of people during coming months. They are the 44 drug offenders, among more than 4,000 who are being released from federal custody before serving their full prison sentences, being set free in this region of the state.

U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld held a press conference Friday to explain how the early release program is being handled in the 32 northern West Virginia counties that are his bailiwick. Convicts benefiting from the program are scheduled to be set free beginning this week.

Federal officials reportedly implemented the early release program as one measure to cope with overcrowding in prisons. The 4,000 drug offenders in the first wave will be followed by thousands more later.

Critics worry the initiative will put convicted drug pushers, some violent, back on the streets to go back to lives of crime.

Ihlenfeld noted convicts being released early were screened carefully before being given the break. He added just one-fourth of the 44 in northern West Virginia are coming straight out of cells. Nearly half are leaving halfway houses early, while another 25 percent are coming off home confinement.

They are not simply being told to go and sin no more, emphasized Terry Huffman, chief federal probation officer for northern West Virginia. He explained that “we are prepared to monitor them once they are released.”

Good. Local and state law enforcement agencies – who know who the early release convicts are – should do the same thing. The newly released ex-cons should be added to the unfortunately long lists of those in the drug community who merit special attention.

Yes, that amounts to profiling. But it is entirely reasonable – and so would be stiff new prison sentences for any of the early release beneficiaries who step out of line.

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