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by German Lopez 02.23.2013
Posted In: Privatization, Prisons, News at 05:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
Liberty for Sale

Inspection Finds Dangerous Conditions at Private Prison

Report echoes concerns raised by privatization critics

A surprise inspection of the private prison owned by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) on Feb. 22 revealed higher levels of violence, inadequate staff, high presence of gang activity, illegal substance use, frequent extortion and theft, according to the report from the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee (CIIC), Ohio’s nonpartisan prison watchdog.

The CIIC report found the Lake Erie Correctional Institution had a 187.5-percent increase in inmate-on-inmate violence between 2010 and 2012, leading to a rate of inmate-on-inmate violence much higher than comparative prisons and slightly below the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) average for all state prisons. Rates of inmate-on-staff violence increased by 305.9-percent between 2010 and 2012 and were much higher than comparative prisons and the ODRC average, according to the report.

Safety and security were major areas of concern, with the report noting “personal safety is at risk.” Fight convictions were up 40 percent, but they weren’t any higher than comparative prisons or the ODRC average, the report found. Disturbances, use of force, access to illegal substances, shakedowns and bunk searches were all in need of improvement, but rounds were acceptable.

How staff handle the use of force and sanctions were particularly problematic, the report said: “Incident reports indicate that staff hesitate to use force even when appropriate and at times fail to deploy chemical agents prior to physical force, risking greater injury to both inmates and staff. Staff also do not appropriately sanction inmates for serious misconduct. At the time of the inspection, the facility had no options for sanctions other than the segregation unit, which was full.”

Fair treatment, fiscal accountability and rehabilitation and reentry were all found by the report to be in need of improvement, with many of the problems focusing on inadequate staff — a common concern critics repeatedly voiced after Gov. John Kasich announced his plan to sell the state prison to CCA in 2011. “The above issues are compounded by high staff turnover and low morale,” the report said. “New staff generally do not have the experience or training to be able to make quick judgments regarding the appropriate application of force or how to handle inmate confrontations. Staff also reported that they are often required to work an extra 12 hours per week, which may impact their response.”

The troubling findings left CIIC with dozens of recommendations for the private prison, including a thorough review of staff policy and guidelines, stronger cooperation between staff, holding staff and inmates more accountable and the completion of required state audits and evaluations.

The only positive findings were in health and well-being. The report said unit conditions, mental health services and food services were all good, while medical services and recreation were acceptable.

The report echoes many of the concerns raised by private prison critics, which CityBeat previously covered (“Liberty for Sale,” issue of Sept. 19). A September audit from ODRC also found the prison was only meeting two-thirds of the state’s standards, and reports from locals near the prison in January warned about a rise in smuggling.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.22.2013
Posted In: News, Stand your ground, Guns at 12:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Research: Stand-Your-Ground Laws Increase Homicides

As Ohio legislators advance law, studies cast doubt on claims of improved public safety

Supporters of a stand-your-ground law claim the measure would make the public safer by making it easier for people to defend themselves from criminals, but the research so far shows the law might weaken public safety in a few key areas and actually increase the amount of homicides.

On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled Ohio House passed sweeping gun legislation that would impose a stand-your-ground law in the state. The bill now requires approval from the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate and Republican Gov. John Kasich to become law.

Stand-your-ground laws remove the duty to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense in places in which a person is lawfully allowed. Current Ohio law only maintains a traditional “castle doctrine,” which removes the duty to retreat only at a person’s home or vehicle.

The laws have grown particularly controversial following the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Florida, where a stand-your-ground law exists but supposedly played a minor role in the trial that allowed Zimmerman to go free.

Regardless of what drove Zimmerman to his actions or allowed him to go free, three major studies found stand-your-ground laws might increase violence and widen racial disparities in the U.S. justice system.

A June 2012 paper from National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) and Texas A&M University researchers concluded, “Results indicate (castle doctrine and stand-your-ground) laws do not deter burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault. In contrast, they lead to a statistically significant 8 percent net increase in the number of reported murders and non-negligent manslaughters.” The study looked at FBI Uniform Crime Reports from 2000 to 2010 for 21 states, including 17 states with stand-your-ground laws and four states, including Ohio, with castle doctrine laws that only apply to a person’s home and vehicle.

Another June 2012 paper from NBER stated, “Our results indicate that Stand Your Ground laws are associated with a significant increase in the number of homicides among whites, especially white males. According to our estimates, between 28 and 33 additional white males are killed each month as a result of these laws. We find no consistent evidence to suggest that these laws increase homicides among blacks.” The study looked at monthly data from U.S. Vital Statistics to gauge the effect of stand-your-ground laws on homicides and firearm injuries, with supplemental analysis of data from FBI Supplementary Homicide Reports and the Health Care Utilization Project.

A July 2013 study from the left-leaning Urban Institute found “homicides with a white perpetrator and a black victim are ten times more likely to be ruled justified than cases with a black perpetrator and a white victim, and the gap is larger in states with Stand Your Ground laws.” According to the findings, stand-your-ground states are more likely to legally justify white-on-white, white-on-black and black-on-black homicides but not black-on-white homicides. For the study, the Urban Institute used FBI Supplementary Homicide Report data for all 50 states and Washington, D.C., dated between 2005 and 2010.

When confronted with such statistics, supporters of stand-your-ground laws typically note that violent crime rates dropped in the states that adopted the laws. But, as PolitiFact Florida pointed out in response to Florida Rep. Dennis Baxley, violent crime began dropping before stand-your-ground laws were passed.

The nationwide violent crime rate dropped from 757.7 to 386.3 between 1992 and 2011, with more than half of the drop occurring between 1992 and 1999, according to FBI crime data. The June 2012 paper from NBER found more than 20 states passed traditional castle doctrine or stand-your-ground laws between 2000 and 2010, after the violent crime rate began to drop.

The research could show correlation instead of causation. Perhaps some unnamed factor in states that adopted stand-your-ground laws makes it more likely that they’ll see increases in homicides or racial disparities, even as violent crime declines. But, at the very least, it doesn’t seem supporters of stand-your-ground laws have the empirical evidence on their side.

 
 
by 06.21.2010
Posted In: 2010 Election, Democrats, News at 04:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 

Bernadette Watson Gets a New Gig

As Bernadette Watson decides whether to run for Cincinnati City Council again in 2011, she's keeping busy by helping a former council member get elected to state office.

Watson has been named as campaign manager for Alicia Reece, a Democrat who is seeking to keep the Ohio House 33rd District seat. Reece, an ex-Cincinnati vice mayor, was appointed to the seat in March to replace Tyrone Yates. Yates, who was facing term limits, was appointed to a municipal judgeship.

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by 03.19.2009
Posted In: Bailout, News, Media at 02:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)
 
 

A Rally's Mean Streak

An actual tea party is supposed to be a cordial, civilized affair but as more details emerge about Sunday’s “Cincinnati Tea Party,” it’s clear that some attendees need a lesson in manners.

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by Bill Sloat 01.04.2013
Posted In: News, Congress, Gun Violence at 12:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
tom massie

Northern Kentucky Congressman Wants Guns In School Zones

Massie's first bill would repeal federal safety buffer enacted in 1990

U.S. Rep. Tom Massie, the congressman who represents the Kentucky side of the Cincinnati metropolitan area, used his first day in Congress to file a bill that would erase a 23-year-old federal ban that makes it a crime to carry guns near schools.

At the moment, Massie does not have any co-sponsors signed up. Details are sparse because the government printing office says it does not yet have the full text of the measure to put online.

The existing Gun-Free School Act of 1990, which was adopted when former president George H.W. Bush, a Republican, was in the White House is viewable here. The bill was amended in 1995. As late as 1999, the National Rifle Association (NRA) was testifying in support of the measure, a position it seems to have dropped after the Sandy Hook massacre.

Under the existing law, so-called “school zones” include but are not limited to parks, sidewalks, roads and highways within 1,000 feet of the property line of a public or private elementary, middle or high school. The law makes it practically impossible to travel in populated areas without entering a "gun-free school zone." People with state-issued licenses or permits to carry guns are exempted by the federal law, but the exemption is only good in the state that issued the permit.

The law doesn’t exempt out-of-state travelers who have permits, nor does it allow off-duty police officers to pack a weapon in a school. And it is a violation for anyone other than an on-duty police officer or a school security guard to discharge a firearm in a school zone for any reason. A state permit does not exempt a person from the discharge prohibition. 

Here is a copy of the bill that retired U.S. Rep. Ron Paul introduced while the Texan was campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination. He called his repeal measure the Citizen Protection Act, and he got no support from co-sponsors. Paul’s bill died when the new Congress was sworn in yesterday, but Massie is now resurrecting it.

Massie is a tea party adherent — elected last fall to replace Geoff Davis — who largely shares the political philosophies of Paul and his son, Sen. Rand Paul, who is also from Kentucky. Massie voted against John Boehner for speaker on the opening day of the 113th Congress, an act of open defiance against the Republican House leadership.

 
 
by German Lopez 09.23.2013
Posted In: News, Development, City Council at 03:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
roxanne qualls

Qualls Unveils ‘Come Home Cincinnati’ Initiative

Plan addresses blight and abandonment in eight Cincinnati neighborhoods

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority and community partners on Monday unveiled the “Come Home Cincinnati” initiative, which promises to make vacant properties available to new occupants in an effort to increase homeownership and redevelop neighborhoods hit hardest by vacancy and abandonment.

The goal is to establish a residential base that will help jumpstart private redevelopment and revitalize largely abandoned areas of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Just about a year ago, we were in Evanston to talk about their housing strategy for the Woodburn Avenue corridor and what to do about the 200 vacant and abandoned properties in the community,” Qualls said in a statement. “The next logical step on the path to revitalization is to incentivize private market investment in the residential core of our neighborhoods and help to fill the once-abandoned homes with new owner-occupants.”

The initiative will work through the Hamilton County Land Bank, private lenders and community development corporations to connect potential homeowners with a pool of loan guarantees.

Qualls’ office says the plan will likely require tapping into the city’s Focus 52 fund, which finances neighborhood projects.

The Port Authority estimates the loan guarantee pool will be $2.5 million to $4.5 million and other aspects of the initiative will cost $3.3 million, but not all of the funding will come from the city.

To qualify for the program, owner-occupants will have to meet minimum credit requirements, agree to live in the rehabilitated home for five years and pay for 5 percent of the total rehabilitation and acquisition costs as a down payment. After five years, the loan will be refinanced at the same or better interest rates to relinquish the city and its partners’ loan guarantee.

The city is eyeing a few potential partners for the initiative, including the Cincinnati Development Fund, Cincinnati Preservation Association, the University of Cincinnati Urban Design Center and neighborhood-specific groups.

The initiative will start with 100 homes in the pilot neighborhoods of Evanston and Walnut Hills, but it will expand to Avondale, College Hill, Madisonville, Northside, Price Hill and South Cumminsville as resources grow. It will work in conjunction with the Moving Ohio Forward demolition grant program, which allows the city and Hamilton County Land Bank to tear down blighted and vacant buildings.

At the same time, three of the neighborhoods — College Hill, Madisonville and Walnut Hills — are currently trying out form-based code, a special kind of zoning code championed by Qualls that allows developers to more easily pursue projects as long as they stay within a neighborhood’s established goals.

City Council will now need to approve a motion that gives the city administration 60 days to develop a plan and budget for the initiative. The city administration’s proposal will also require City Council approval.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.13.2014
 
 
news1_headwatersgatewaydistrict_provided

What Is Responsible Bidder?

City’s rule for MSD projects attempts to increase local employment, job training

Following county commissioner’s Feb. 12 meeting, the dispute between Cincinnati and Hamilton County over contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects appears to be heading to court.

The court battle comes after the county dismissed multiple concessions from the city and put MSD’s revamp of the local sewer system on hold in protest of the city’s rules. With a federal mandate looming, both sides agree a resolution is needed soon to avoid costly fines from the federal government.

For many across the city and county, the conflict is understandably confusing. The debate has often been mired down by biased media reports and political talking points that obfuscate the issue. Jargon referencing “responsible bidder,” “local hire,” “local preference,” unions, apprenticeship programs, a pre-apprenticeship fund and contractors make it even more difficult to grasp what is going on.

Cutting through the politics, here is what the responsible bidder rules actually do and why the city and county seem incapable of compromise.

What is responsible bidder?

It’s a city ordinance that essentially forces MSD contractors to adopt job training measures known as apprenticeship programs and pay for a pre-apprenticeship fund. By requiring the training options, the city hopes workers will be able to improve their skills and successfully transition to other jobs once their MSD work is finished.

Apprenticeship programs take workers through extensive on-the-job and classroom-based training in which they can hone their skills in a specific craft, such as electrical or plumbing work. Because workers get paid for their work while participating in an apprenticeship, the programs are typically characterized as an “earn-while-you-learn” model.

The pre-apprenticeship fund will put money toward programs that will teach newcomers basic skills, such as math and reading, so they can eventually move up to an apprenticeship program.

The rules don’t apply to every MSD contractor. Contracts worth less than $400,000, which make up roughly half of MSD’s sewer revamp, are exempted.

What about local hire and local preference?

Those are ordinances separate from responsible bidder that give preference to Cincinnati-based businesses. They try to keep MSD contracts within local companies.

What’s the conflict about?

The conflict is between Cincinnati and Hamilton County, which jointly run MSD. The Democrat-controlled city supports the rules, while the Republican-controlled county opposes them.

The city and county also dispute which governing body can set policy for MSD. Under a 1968 agreement, the county owns and funds MSD, and the city operates and maintains it. City Council argues the agreement allows the city to set policy for MSD, but the county disagrees. Both sides acknowledge the set-up is far from ideal.

So, did the city’s rules halt MSD projects?

No. Nothing in the city’s ordinances forces MSD projects to stop. County commissioners singlehandedly halted MSD projects in protest of the city’s rules. If it were up to the city, work would continue today.

Why are these projects so important?

By federal decree, the city needs to revamp the sewer system to bring it up to environmentally safe standards. The project will cost $3.2 billion over 15-20 years, making it one of the most expensive in the city’s history.

If the city and county don’t carry on with the revamp soon, the federal government will begin issuing fines. By some guesses, the fines could begin rolling in by the end of the year.

Why does a majority of City Council support responsible bidder?

Councilman Chris Seelbach, the Democrat who championed the rules, says they will boost local employment and create more job training options for the city’s struggling workforce.

Other Democrats on council agree, although some, like Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, believe the ordinance is “imperfect.”

Does responsible bidder benefit workers?

Some research suggests it would.

The left-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) in a December report argued apprenticeship programs provide an opportunity to revitalize the U.S. workforce.

“By 2020, America is projected to experience a shortage of 3 million workers with associate’s degrees or higher and 5 million workers with technical certificates and credentials,” the report claimed. “Compounding our inadequate workforce development system, research shows that employers are now spending less on training than they have in the past. At the same time, industry surveys show that a lack of qualified workers is a top concern for many employers.”

Citing a 2012 study from Mathematica Policy Research, CAP estimated apprenticeship programs alone can boost a worker’s lifetime earnings and benefits by more than $300,000. Over 36 years of employment, that’s an average gain of nearly $8,400 a year.

Why do county commissioners oppose the rules?

In terms of policy, county commissioners say the responsible bidder rules favor unions and burden businesses.

On a legal basis, the county argues the city’s responsible bidder rules conflict with state law and the local hire and preference rules enforce unconstitutional geographic preferences.

Does responsible bidder actually favor unions?

Since unions tend to offer better and more apprenticeship programs, yes.

But the rules don’t exclude non-union businesses from participating. For example, Ohio Valley Associated Builders and Contractors maintains some non-union apprenticeship programs that would qualify under the law.

Still, most of the union favoritism debate centered around a regulation the city actually offered to give up. Specifically, under current rules employers are only eligible to contract with MSD if they have apprenticeship programs that have graduated at least one person a year for the past five years. In October, Seelbach offered to strip the mandate and replace it with an incentive program. The county seemed unmoved by the proposal.

What about businesses? Does responsible bidder burden them?

By requiring businesses to adopt apprenticeship programs and put 10 cents for each hour of labor into a pre-apprenticeship fund, the law certainly places more regulations on businesses. Whether the requirements are a burden is subjective.

John Morris, president of the Ohio Valley Associated Builders and Contractors and an opponent of the law, told CityBeat the pre-apprenticeship fund’s requirement will increase business costs by $2-3 million over 15-20 years.

Citing MSD estimates for the cost of labor, Rob Richardson, regional manager of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, said the fund will cost businesses $1.5 million.

Even if someone accepts Morris’ estimate, the requirement adds up to at most 0.1 percent of the $3.2 billion project.

More broadly, some supporters of the city’s rules question whether placing a burden on businesses is innately a bad thing. The basic point of government regulations is to make the economy and businesses work better for the public. In that sense, regulations are always going to burden businesses to some extent.

For example, financial regulations burden big banks and financial institutions. But many Americans agree the regulations are necessary to avoid another financial crisis like the one that plunged the country into the Great Recession.

Still, critics argue the extra regulations would increase the cost of business, and the impact could ultimately be felt by MSD ratepayers.

Why don’t the city and county just compromise?

They kind of tried, but it seems the philosophical split between Hamilton County Republicans and Cincinnati Democrats is too strong to reach a substantial agreement.

The city, for example, has offered multiple concessions to the county. In May, City Council modified the law to ease some requirements and add an exemption for contracts worth less than $400,000, which covers half of the contracts involved in MSD’s sewer revamp. In October, Seelbach offered to replace a strict mandate with a looser incentive program. Seelbach also told CityBeat on Feb. 6 that he would consider raising the contract exemption from $400,000 to $750,000.

In return, the county rejected the concessions and instead offered to establish aspirational inclusion goals and some funding for local job training programs — as long as the city repealed its rules altogether.

Which side would win the court battle?

It’s hard to say. Both sides — and their lawyers — seem pretty confident about their legal standing.

So what’s next?

At the current rate, it looks like the city and county are heading to court. Whether the process involves a full-on legal battle or mediation between the city and county’s lawyers remains uncertain, but it’s clear something will eventually have to give.

This blog post will be regularly updated as the situation develops.

 
 
by 06.16.2011
Posted In: News, Republicans, Congress, 2012 Election at 11:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 

Wenstrup Runs for Congress

Republican Brad Wenstrup, a podiatrist and U.S. Army veteran who unsuccessfully ran for Cincinnati mayor in 2009, announced today that he will challenge incumbent Jean Schmidt next year in the GOP primary to run for Ohio's 2nd Congressional District seat.

Wenstrup ran against incumbent Mayor Mark Mallory, a Democrat, two years ago. Wenstrup lost 54-46 percent, but many local Republican leaders were impressed by the showing of the first-time political candidate.

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by Danny Cross 08.02.2013
Posted In: News at 03:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
emery-building-cincinnati

Requiem Project Files Lawsuit over Emery Lease

Organization faced eviction with management agreement set to expire Aug. 3

The Requiem Project filed a complaint today asking a judge to force the Emery Theater’s operating entity to enter into a long-term lease with the organization. 

On Monday, Judge Carl Stitch is scheduled to rule on a motion to grant a temporary restraining order to stop the Requiem from being evicted from the building. The complaint states that the Emery Center Corporation asked Requiem to vacate the theater by Aug. 3 and has requested that Requiem return its keys to the building. It asks the court to declare that the Requiem is entitled to a long-term lease of the property based on a 2010 agreement that the two sides would work toward a long-term lease.

The Requiem Project is a nonprofit organization that formed in 2008 to redevelop the Emery Theater, a 1,600-seat, acoustically pure concert space on Walnut Street in Over-the-Rhine. The theater entrance is on the west side of the building at the corner of Walnut and Central Parkway, which includes Coffee Emporium and about 60 apartments.

Requiem founders Tina Manchise and Tara Gordon have programmed events at the venue during the past few years under temporary occupancy permits. The theater is not eligible for a permanent certificate of occupancy because it needs significant renovations — it currently doesn't have working plumbing or heat. Still, organizers have produced individual events, sometimes bringing in portable toilets and taking other measures to make the space functional. In April, the Emery hosted the Contemporary Dance Theater’s 40th anniversary celebration. It also hosted three nights of live music during last fall’s MidPoint Music Festival, which is owned and operated by CityBeat. MidPoint organizers were unable to secure the venue for this year’s event.

The theater is operated by the Emery Center Corporation (ECC), a nonprofit organization that subleases the theater from the Emery Center Apartments Limited Partnership (ECALP), a for-profit corporation that holds a long-term lease to the building from UC. All three parties — UC, ECC and ECALP — are named as defendants in the complaint. 

University of Cincinnati spokesperson Greg Hand declined to comment, only stating that UC doesn’t have a relationship with the Requiem Project because Requiem works directly with the ECC, which subleases part of the building from ECALP.

The Requiem Project alleges that the intent all along was for ECC to lease the space to Requiem long-term, not just for Requiem to program events under a management agreement. According to the complaint, the Requiem and ECC in 2010 signed a Letter of Intent, which stated that the ECC would enter into a lease agreement with the Requiem “on substantially similar terms” as the ECC’s current deal with ECALP, the for-profit entity that oversees the rest of the building. That lease, signed in 1999, is for 40-years and renewable for another 40 years after that. 

The two sides entered into a management agreement while negotiating the long-term lease, but the lease was never agreed upon. The most recent yearlong management agreement is set to expire Aug. 3. 

ECC informed Requiem Jan. 16 that it would not renew the current agreement “for no cause,” according to the complaint.

The complaint alleges that the theater cannot obtain a permanent certificate of occupancy because ECALP removed the heat and water systems while renovating part of the building into apartments, which were developed to raise revenue for the eventual renovation of the theater. The renovations of the apartments left the theater without running water, heat, bathrooms or fire escapes, according to the complaint, which notes that ECC let the theater sit empty between the time it took over its management in 1999 and when the Requiem Project came along in 2008. A permanent certificate of occupancy would allow regular programming in the theater, but the venue needs considerable renovations to qualify.

"UC refuses to even meet with the parties to outline its demands," the complaint states. "ECC and ECALP have stopped replying to Requiem's reasonable proposals."

The hearing is scheduled for 1:45 p.m. Monday. 

 
 
by Danny Cross 12.06.2011
 
 
08.+james-dean-smoking-capri-cigarettes

Morning News and Stuff

Despite the economic troubles affecting the state, Ohioans are smoking more than ever, according to a study that found the highest percentage point increase of any state. An official with the Ohio Department of Health attributes the increase to the stress people are under, though the Ohio General Assembly also cut funding to the state's smoking cessation help line, so there's that. Ohio ranked as the 36th healthiest state in 2011, down from 33 rd in 2010, while Indiana came in at 38th and Kentucky 43rd.

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