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by Hannah McCartney 03.05.2012
Posted In: Governor, Government, Ethics at 12:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

ACLU of Ohio Protests Privatizing State Prisons

Says it will add to state budges, hurt public safety and lead to unnecessary incarcerations

There are certain institutions in the U.S. that we don't like to think of as strictly profit-seeking endeavors. It can be difficult to swallow that (supposedly) do-good establishments like retirement homes, textbook companies and hospitals exist to bring in revenue rather than serve the needs of a community without waiver. In Ohio, one state prison is already that a business and others could soon follow suit. 

In September of 2011, Ohio became the first state in the nation to sell a state prison facility to a private prison company when the Lake Erie Correctional Institute in Ashtabula County was sold to the Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest prison operator, for $72.7 million.

The idea to privatize Ohio prisons was concocted by Gov. John Kasich in an attempt to fill an $8 billion hole in Ohio's budget. The sale brought in an extra $50 million to use in balancing Ohio's prison budget.

Kasich's budget strategy included an overhaul of Ohio's Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, which means that private prison facility owners would actually benefit from more incarcerations. Now, CCA has made an offerto  48 U.S. states to buy and privatize state prisons. The offer, the Corrections Investment Initiative, outlines CCA's plan to spend up to $250 million on state, local and federal entities and then manage the facilities. According to the CCA's statement from Harley Lappin, Chief Corrections Officer at CCA, they're only interested in buying facilities that are willing to sign over rights of ownership to the CCA for a minimum of 20 years, and states must agree to keep the facilities at least 90 percent full.

With six million Americans in the corrections system, the U.S. already has the highest rates of incarceration in the world — including per capita and in absolute terms surpassing countries like Iran, China and Russia. CCA'S website glorifies its mission as noble; a video on the home page shows a patriotic, proudly waving flag. Text touts its strategies as forward-thinking and altruistic, noting that they are "protecting public safety, employing the best people in solid careers, rehabilitating inmates, giving back to communities, and bringing innovative security to government corrections."

The ACLU of Ohio has issued a statement strongly opposing the change; it argues that privatizing state prisons will add debt to state budges, hurt public safety and lead to more unnecessary incarcerations. According to "Prisons for Profit: A Look at Prison Privatization," a report published by ACLU-Ohio, privately-run prisons only offer a short-term infusion of cash, not long-term savings. "Cost savings in privately run facilities [like those run by CCA] are achieved by cutting the pay of workers," says Mike Bricker, ACLU Director of Communications and Public Policy. Corrections officers in private facilities make significantly less and receive far less benefits than those in public facilities. This difference, he says, results in an astronomically higher turnover rate in private facilities. "When something bad happens, they leave," he says.

The high turnover rate makes for a consistently less experienced staff, which means officers aren't as well-prepared when a bad situation does arise. He cites an example when cutting corners came at a high price: A CCA-run Youngstown facility that opened in 1997 brought in 1,700 violent inmates from Washington, D.C. at what was supposed to be a medium-security prison. Over the course of a year, there were 16 stabbings, two murders and six escapes; the situation became such a concern to the community that Youngstown sued CCA in 1998 and the facility was shut down.

According to Brickner, the smallest incident is enough to negate the short-term revenue from privatizing prisons; when the main objective is profit, privatized prisons want to book non-violent offenders who won't be in facilities for a long period of time. That means cells become overcrowded when minor offenders could be in rehabilitation, and extremely violent detainees tend to be managed improperly.

"It is inherently wrong to allow private businesses to make a profit off the incarceration of others," said Brickner in an ACLU press release. “Our state’s prison system is bloated, and private corporations have a vested financial interest to ensure our prisons remain full. If state officials have any hope of shrinking our prison population, we must implement transformative criminal justice reform policies and reject interests that grow our prison system.”

Brickner suggests that concerned citizens contact their elected representatives to express their opposition to privatizing prisons. Read the ACLU's full report on privatizing prisons here.

by German Lopez 09.11.2012
Posted In: Government, News, Education at 02:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
dave yost

State Auditor: Charter School Wasteful, Unethical

Hamilton County school overpaid in potential conflict of interest

State Auditor Dave Yost released an audit today looking at Value Learning and Teaching (VLT) Academy’s 2010-2011 school year, and the findings are not pretty. The charter school, which is located in downtown Cincinnati, was found to be potentially overpaying in multiple instances — including potential conflicts of interest.

“Those who are entrusted with taxpayer dollars must take special care and spend them wisely,” Yost said in a statement. “This school appears to have management issues that must be addressed quickly.”

In a potential conflict of interest, the school paid Echole Harris, daughter of the school’s superintendent, $82,000 during the school year and $17,000 for a summer contract for the position of EMIS coordinator, who helps provide data from VLT Academy to the state. Mysteriously, the school did not disclose the summer contract in its financial statements. The school says the superintendent abstained from all decisions related to Harris and presented the summer contract to the school board. Still, Yost referred the situation to the Ohio Ethics Commission.

The audit also criticized VLT Academy for approving a $249,000 bid for janitorial services that were owned and provided by a school employee. The bid was the most expensive among other offers ranging between $82,000 and $135,600. According to the school’s own minutes, “Each company states that they can deliver a work product that will meet or exceed the standards provided in our checklist,” adding little justification to the high payment and potential conflict of interest. The school insists its pick was the best qualified because it offered additional services. The bid approval was also referred to the Ohio Ethics Commission.

The school was found to be overpaying its IT director as well. Keenan Cooke’s salary for the 2010-2011 school year was supposed to be $55,000, but the school overpaid him by $3,333 with no record of intent. The state asked for Cooke and Judy McConnell, VLT Academy’s fiscal officer, to return the excess payment to the state. The school acknowledged McConnell's responsibility.

To make the potentially excess payments worse, VLT Academy had a net asset deficiency of $412,754 as of June 30, 2011, according to the audit. The school promised the auditor it will cut costs and find revenue generators to make up for the loss.

by German Lopez 06.10.2013
Posted In: Voting, News, Government at 10:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

County to Investigate 39 Voter Fraud Cases

Critics warn of potential chilling effect

As county and state officials move to investigate and potentially prosecute voter fraud cases, local groups are pushing back, warning that the investigations could cause a chilling effect among voters.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls became the latest to speak out in a letter to Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters and Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.

“The current legal investigations perpetuate the idea that voter fraud is widespread, when it’s not true,” she wrote. “We need to work together to give citizens the confidence that the election process is fair and accessible to those who have followed the law and pre-determined process. When citizens are confused about the process of voting they are intimidated from exercising their full rights to vote, which erodes confidence in and the integrity of our democracy.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (ACLU) and League of Women Voters of Ohio sent similar letters to Husted in the past few weeks, echoing fears that the investigations will intimidate voters into staying out of future elections.

The controversy surrounds 39 “double voter cases recently sent to the county prosecutor by the Hamilton County Board of Elections. In most of the cases, the voters in question sent in an absentee ballot prior to Election Day then voted on Election Day through a provisional ballot, which are given to voters when there’s questions about eligibility. Even though the voters technically voted twice, their votes were only counted once.

The letters from Qualls and the League of Women Voters claim the cases were sent to the county prosecutor based on a narrow interpretation of state law and other sections of election law back the voters’ actions.

The letters reference Ohio Revised Code Section 3509.09(B)(2), which says, “If a registered elector appears to vote in that precinct and that elector has requested an absent voter's ballot for that election and the director has received a sealed identification envelope purporting to contain that elector's voted absent voter's ballots for that election, the elector shall be permitted to cast a provisional ballot under section 3505.181 of the Revised Code in that precinct on the day of that election.” The law goes on to clarify only one of the votes should be counted.

Husted broke a tie vote in the Hamilton County Board of Elections on May 31, siding with the Republicans on the board who wanted to send the case to the county prosecutor.

Alex Triantafilou, an elections board member and chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, says Republicans just want an investigation.

“I think anytime a person casts two ballots we ought to ask why,” Triantafilou says. “This is not to prejudge any of these cases as criminal charges. That’s not been our intention. What we want is a qualified investigator to ask the question and then answer it.”

Tim Burke, chairman of the local elections board and the Hamilton County Democratic Party, disagrees: “This is a damn shame. What’s happening to those voters is absolutely wrong.”

Burke claims the law was followed and no further investigation is necessary. He alleges Republicans are trying to suppress voters.

“I fear that what’s going on is that elements of the Republican Party want to create the impression that there is massive voter fraud going on, and they want to scare the hell out of people to intimidate them and discourage them from voting in the future,” Burke says. “I think part of what’s going on here is an effort to identify voter fraud in order to justify more restrictions on voting rights.”

Triantafilou argues Democrats, including Burke, are playing politics: “It’s a continuation of the kind of fear that Democrats try to instill in the electorate, and it’s a political weapon. We’re not trying to do that. They alleged voter suppression in the last election cycle. That was nonsensical. The problem really is fraud.”

by 02.16.2009
Posted In: Public Policy, Community, Government at 10:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Juvenile "Justice"

Jailing juveniles as a form of “rehabilitation” comes with an expensive price tag. More than money, the criminal justice system costs kids their rights and that state seems to be OK with that.

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by 09.18.2009
Posted In: Government, Business, 2010 Election at 12:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Yates: Stop Automatic Overdraft Protection

State Rep. Tyrone Yates (D-Cincinnati), plans to introduce legislation in the Ohio House soon that he said would help shield bank customers from excessive fees.

Under his proposal, banks doing business in Ohio would be prohibited from automatically enrolling customers in debit card overdraft protection programs without first giving them the right to opt-out of the service.

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by 06.30.2010
Posted In: LGBT Issues, Government, Public Policy at 02:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

EC Drops Ball on Domestic Registry

It's kind of like dressing up as a child and pretending you're a police officer or some other adult occupation, or maybe it's more akin to playing house.

Equality Cincinnati (EC), a gay rights group, will have a booth on Fountain Square during this weekend's Equinox Pride festival. During the event, EC will unveil its new domestic partner registry. Same-sex couples can sign the registry to show their symbolic commitment to one another.

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by German Lopez 09.13.2012
Posted In: Government, News, 2012 Election, Courts, Economy at 09:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

More bad news for Secretary of State Jon Husted. The Ohio Supreme Court told Husted his approved ballot language for Issue 2 contains “factual inaccuracies” and must be rewritten by the Ballot Board. Voters First previously contested the language as misleading to voters. If approved by voters, Issue 2 will put an independent citizens commission in charge of redistricting. Under the current system, state officials redraw borders, sometimes using the process for political advantage. In Cincinnati’s district, the Republican-controlled process redrew the district to include Warren County, giving the district more rural voters that tend to side with Republicans instead of urban voters that tend to side with Democrats. Voters First mocked the process with a graph showing how redistricting decisions can sometimes be made in 13 minutes with no questions asked. CityBeat covered the redistricting process here when Issue 2 was still in the petition process.

Ohio’s median income dropped last year, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau. But rates of poverty and uninsured rates remained the same. Nationwide, uninsured rates dropped from 16.3 percent in 2010 to 15.7 percent in 2011, meaning 1.4 million people gained health coverage. Some of that is attributable to health-care reform passed by President Barack Obama.

Former University of Cincinnati President Greg Williams is getting a pretty nice going-away present. The Board of Trustees approved a package for Williams that adds up to more than $1.2 million. It includes a bonus, retirement benefits, consulting fees, a year’s salary and a contract buyout. Williams abruptly left UC on Aug. 21, citing personal reasons.

Homeless shelters will cost more than expected, says 3CDC. The nonprofit group said it will cost about $40 million to build three homeless shelters and help finance others.

With the support of Democrats and Republicans, the Ohio legislature approved pension reforms yesterday. The reforms lower benefits, raise contributions requirements, increase the retirement eligibility age, establish new cost-of-living guidelines and set a new formula to calculate benefits, all for future retirees. For the most part, current retirees are not affected. Senate President Tom Niehaus, a Republican, said, “We know the changes are not popular, but they are necessary.” Before the changes, the system was losing $1 million a day, according to a statement from Rep. Robert Hagan, a Democrat.

Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio is pushing against banks that take advantage of college students. In a letter to Higher One, Brown told the bank to rework its contracts with universities. Brown wrote in the letter, “Federal student aid programs should help students prepare for the future, not extract fee income from them.” He went on to ask the bank to redo its contracts so they are “consumer-friendly and consistent with reforms that Congress enacted for the credit card market.”

Ohio’s inspector general found ODJFS wrongly reimbursed organizations in central Ohio with federal stimulus funds when the organizations did not follow rules.

Vice President Joe Biden was in Dayton yesterday. During his speech, he spoke about the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya, which led to the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. Biden vowed justice will be served.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney unleashed a big foreign policy gaffe yesterday when he politicized the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya. The attack was revealed to cause the death of Stevens after Romney made his comments.

Math shows homeopathy, a trend in medicine, is implausible.

by German Lopez 09.18.2012

Husted Suggests 'More Strict' ID Law

As other states come under fire, Ohio hints at voter ID law

It seems Ohio may soon get a controversial voter ID law. While speaking at a Tea Party event in Cincinnati on Monday, Secretary of State Jon Husted said the General Assembly is likely to take up a voter ID law after the November election.

“I was listening to a show one night where they talked about these onerous rules, these onerous photo ID rules and the onerous rules in Ohio on photo ID,” he said. “Well, the photo ID law in Ohio is not onerous. As a matter of fact, I suspect the General Assembly will take up a more strict version of what we have after what we’ve been through with this election process.”

Later on, an audience member commented on the issue by pointing out Ohioans can currently identify themselves with 12 different types of ID. In response, Husted clarified his position: “We need to streamline that because it’s really hard for a poll worker to know exactly what they’re supposed to be checking. And I’m quite confident the legislature is going to take that issue up.”

Under current Ohio law, voters can go to the polls with state ID cards, driver’s licenses, military IDs, utility bills, paychecks, bank statements and other forms of ID. Republicans have sometimes criticized the many options, particularly for not being state-issued and not requiring a photo.

Other states have taken up voter ID laws. Pennsylvania’s controversial law requires voters to have state-issued photo ID. A Pennsylvania court recently upheld the law, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated the decision today and asked the lower court to reconsider. The ruling from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court gives lower courts room to strike down the law.

Democrats criticize ID laws for suppressing voters. A study from researchers at the University of Chicago and Washington University in St. Louis found nearly 700,000 young, minority voters will be unable to cast a ballot due to voter ID laws. Both young and minority voters tend to side with Democrats.

Republicans say the laws are necessary to protect elections from voter fraud. However, studies suggest in-person voter fraud is not a serious, widespread issue. A News21 report, a Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project that looked at national public records, found 10 cases of alleged in-person voter fraud since 2000. That’s less than one case a year nationwide.

The audio clips from the event, which was provided by the Ohio Democratic Party, can be heard here and here.

Husted’s office could not be immediately reached for comment. This story will be updated if a comment becomes available.

UPDATE (4:25 P.M.): Matt McClellan, spokesperson for Husted, called CityBeat after this story was published.

"The Tea Party has generally been critical of the secretary's position on voter ID," he said, referring to Husted's past opposition of strict voter ID laws. "The comments he made at the event last night were environmental in general about what the secretary thought had been happening at the statehouse. His position, in general, is unchanged."

When pressed about what Husted meant when he advocated for "streamlining" laws, McClellan said Husted supported "simplification" of the current system. McClellan could not offer more details on what that means, and he said specifics would be up to the legislature to decide.

Chris Redfern, Ohio Democratic Party chairman, responded to Husted’s suggestions in a statement: “As if Secretary of State Husted has not done enough to undermine access to Ohio’s polls, now he’s planning a secret post-Election Day assault on what forms of identification voters can present to cast a ballot. It’s no surprise that after slashing voting access across the state, using his office for partisan advantage, and lying about Issue 2, now Husted is making plans to create obstacles for African Americans and seniors to vote.”

by Danny Cross 04.18.2012
Posted In: Police, Social Justice, Government at 09:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Estate of David 'Bones' Hebert Files Wrongful Death Suit

Lawsuit against Sgt. Andrew Mitchell filed one day before anniversary of shooting

The estate of David “Bones” Hebert filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against Cincinnati Police Sgt. Andrew Mitchell alleging wrongful death and battery in the April 18, 2011, shooting death of the 40-year-old musician. The plaintiff in the case is listed as Paul Carmack, administrator of the estate of David Hebert.

The lawsuit claims that Hebert was complying with instructions given by an investigating officer when he was shot and killed by Mitchell. The suit claims excessive force was used and that Mitchell “acted intentionally, recklessly, wantonly, and with deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of Mr. Hebert.”

Hebert was shot and killed by Mitchell after officers responded to a 911 call around 3 a.m. during which an intoxicated man alleged to have been robbed by Hebert and assaulted with a pirate sword. Hebert was located sitting on a sidewalk on Chase Avenue in Northside about 10 minutes later. During subsequent questioning, officers say Hebert drew a knife and moved toward an investigating officer, causing Mitchell to believe the officer’s life was in danger. Mitchell shot Hebert twice, killing him. Toxicology reports found Hebert to have a blood alcohol content of 0.33 at the time of his death, along with marijuana and psychedelic mushrooms in his system.

Three investigations cleared police of any wrongdoing, but Friends of Bones says the facts from the investigations show Hebert complied with police orders during the encounter.

The lawsuit demands a trial by jury and compensatory and punitive damages, along with attorney’s fees, costs, disbursements and additional relief as the court deems proper. The suit, which is embedded below, was published on the “Friends of Bones” website (www.friendsofbones.org).

The incident has drawn considerable media attention, especially this week in conjunction with the anniversary of the shooting.

The Cincinnati Enquirer on Monday published a story titled “Reports: Cops came too close in killing of David 'Bones' Hebert” comparing accounts of the incident in public records to standard Cincinnati Police Department guidelines, which concluded that “police officers got dangerously close and failed to have a plan before approaching Hebert, who police thought was carrying a sword or large knife.”

Cincinnati Magazine’s May issue will feature a story, “Salvaging Bones,” which is subtitled: “David Hebert was a lot of things: the dreadlocked maker of burritos; a punk rocker; a womanizing, tatted-up former Jesus freak with a kind heart and a wild streak. What he wasn’t was a guy you’d expect to find dead at the end of a police standoff.”

CityBeat on Sept. 14, 2011 published a story titled “Digging Up Answers for Bones” in which friends and family of Hebert alleged that Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters’ closing of the investigation was politically motivated.

CityBeat on May 4, 2011 published a story titled “A Shot in the Dark,” detailing the early questions that surrounded the incident.

by Hannah McCartney 11.13.2013
Posted In: Women, Health, Government, News at 01:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Two New Domestic Violence Laws Join Others in Ohio House

Four sitting bills would offer amped-up victim protection

Two bills discussed today at a hearing of the Ohio House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee would, if passed, offer greater protections to victims of domestic violence and extend them more legal rights to protect their employment, housing and financial livelihood.

Those bills will join H.B. 243 and H.B. 160, which are still awaiting hearings before the judiciary committee and would, respectively, require individuals served with temporary protection orders to surrender their firearms and offer legal protection to the pets of domestic violence victims — often cited as a reason victims have difficulty leaving a violent situation.

Most significant are the changes that would be implemented by H.B. 297, first introduced to the Ohio House in October by Reps. Ann Gonzales (R-Westerville) and Denise Driehaus (D-Cincinnati). The bill outlines new legal protections for domestic violence victims who need to terminate a rental agreement or take unpaid leave at work in order to deal with domestic violence incidences.

Under the bill, victims of domestic violence would be legally protected against termination at work and have the ability to dissolve a rental lease if the tenant has been a victim of domestic violence. The bill would also prohibit landlords from kicking out tenants because they've been victims of domestic violence at the residence and requires them to comply with requests to change locks when a tenant has been a victim of stalking or menacing. 

H.B. 309, also introduced in October, by Reps. Dorothy Pelanda (R-Marysville) and Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), would dissolve any charges related to modifications made to a domestic violence, anti-stalking or other type of protection order or consent agreement

In August, CityBeat spoke with domestic violence victim Andrea Metil, who talked about her personal experiences with legal trip-ups that made protecting herself from her attacker difficult. Metil called for stronger legislation to protect victims of domestic violence.

This is the first hearing for both of the bills.