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Why does Dearborn County have such harsh prison sentences?

Posted: 10:02 AM, Sep 02, 2016
Updated: 2016-09-02 17:58:26-04

LAWRENCEBURG, Ind. — Donnie Gaddis sold 15 oxycodone pills to an undercover officer in Dearborn County, Indiana.

He was sentenced to 12 years in prison, The New York Times reported.

Had he sold the prescription pills in Cincinnati, he would have received a maximum of six months in prison, according to court records obtained by The New York Times.

Philip Stephens, a public defender in Cincinnati, told the New York Times that he has settled a murder with a lighter sentence.

Dearborn County sends more people to prison per capita than almost any other county in the U.S., and the majority of those imprisoned are white, rural and politically conservative.

One in 10 adults in Dearborn County are in prison, jail or they have probation.

According to a New York Times analysis, prison sentences in counties with less than 100,000 people have risen even as crime has decreased, largely due to the heroin epidemic that has crippled parts of rural and suburban areas of the country.

In Cincinnati, most who are caught with a small amount of drugs are charged with a crime but sent to drug court, where they are placed in a treatment program, Stephens told The New York Times. He also said the charge is dismissed if they complete the program.

Aaron Negangard, the elected prosecutor in Dearborn County, told The New York Times that he is proud of the county’s system.

“I am proud of the fact that we send more people to jail than other counties,” Negangard told The New York Times last year. “That’s how we keep it safe here.”

Negangard supervises his own police force, which allows him to investigate and prosecute most of the county’s serious crime.

By 2014, Dearborn County sentenced more people to prison than San Francisco or Westchester County, N.Y., which each have at least 13 times as many people, according to The New York Times.